Trumka Urges Senate Democrats to Focus on Kitchen Table Economics

Washington, D.C.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka today delivered the following remarks before the Senate Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee:

Good morning. Thank you, Senator Klobuchar, for inviting me back. To you, Leader Schumer, Senator Durbin, Senator Murray and the entire caucus, I appreciate this opportunity to bring forward the voices of working people.  

I’m also proud to be surrounded by my fellow leaders in the labor movement. We have a great team.

On July 4th, the Washington Post ran a headline entitled: “This doesn’t look like the best economy ever.” The article went on to describe the 40 percent of Americans who say they are still struggling to pay the bills. Their prosperity isn’t based on the Dow or the GDP. They judge progress in wages and health care and the ability to provide a better life to their children. And by every measure, they are working harder for less.  

I witnessed this anxiety firsthand on a recent swing through Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan. I visited 6 cities over 3 days to talk about the new NAFTA. At each stop, I heard from people who are searching for answers. They believe with every fiber of their being that the deck is stacked against them. Politically. Economically. You name it. They are frustrated. And they don’t trust Washington.

Yet our trade tour also demonstrated that working people are hungry for a conversation. They want it. They need it. And if you don’t go and have it with them, someone else will. And that person or group may not have workers’ best interests at heart. The 2016 election is the most obvious example of this.

So more than anything, I encourage you to spend this August recess talking to working people about kitchen table economics. Tell them about the PRO Act, Senator Murray’s bill to update and strengthen our labor laws. When I was on the road, most people hadn’t yet heard about this landmark legislation. 

Well, they were experts on the PRO Act by the time I was done with them. And guess what? They loved it. They were excited about it. They know better than anyone how hard it is to form a union and how our labor laws are completely unfair. And it wasn’t just the Midwest. In the first half of this year, we held large gatherings of union activists in every region of the country. We asked workers what issues were most important to them. The top answer by far was fixing our outdated labor laws.

So the PRO Act is not just good policy. It’s good politics. 41 senators have signed on. I urge the rest of you to become cosponsors today, because I'll be blunt: If you can’t get behind protecting our right to organize, well, then that’s pretty much the end of the conversation.

I also hope you talk about trade during the break. Working people want to replace NAFTA with an agreement that works. I heard that message in town hall after town hall. But no one, especially not the victims of outsourcing, are ready to support something that is unenforceable and fails to live up to our expectations. August is an opportunity to explain to your constituents what’s wrong with the current proposal and what it would take to get your support. Constructive efforts to achieve a better deal, like the enforcement proposal put forth by Senators Brown and Wyden, will go a long way to winning over our members. 

Finally, I want to reiterate something I said throughout our trade tour. We can’t fix the economic rules if we don’t fix NAFTA. But we also can’t fix the rules if we only fix NAFTA. We need a full court press on a wide range of economic policies that advance good jobs, higher wages, great benefits and the freedom to form a union. So whether it’s pensions, immigration, protecting federal employees, voting rights, the future of work or raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, the labor movement is ready to help advance a pro-worker agenda. And that starts with you talking to us and making our issues your own. 

August is a chance to tell working people what you’re for instead of who you’re against. Visit our worksites and communities. Tell us your plan to rewrite the rules of our economy and win a stronger, brighter, fairer America. Mention the PRO Act everywhere you go! If you engage and listen to workers, we will respond. And that’s your path back to the majority. 

Thank you very much.