Trumka to Utility Workers Convention: We Power America

Las Vegas, Nevada

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka delivered the following remarks at UWUA 31st Constitutional Convention:

Thank you, Brother Mike (Langford)! Your entire team here has done an incredible job. Brother Steve (VanSlooten), thank you for your decades of service. I wish you nothing but the best in whatever comes next. And, what can I say about Mike Langford? 

From your days as a utility worker at the Detroit Edison Company to your leadership of this great union, you have demonstrated the vision and solidarity needed to tackle some of the greatest challenges of our time. Whether it’s your passion for life-long learning, securing an energy future defined by good jobs, rebuilding our infrastructure, supporting our veterans or being a voice for every single utility worker, you did the labor movement and our entire nation proud. And, your friendship means the world to me. Congratulations on an outstanding career and a well-deserved retirement! 

To the amazing members of the UWUA, it an honor to be here with you today. Your convention theme and its focus on protecting our legacy and building our future could not be more timely. The resolution Brother Mike just presented is exactly where our labor movement needs to be. 

We will defend ourselves from attacks. And we will also go on offense to win new rights and break new ground. 

We will protect the jobs we have. And we will use our unmatched infrastructure and resources to create new jobs. Good jobs. Union jobs. 

We will support the members currently in our ranks. And we will make our case to a new generation of workers that are younger and more diverse, but just as hungry for a voice on the job. 

That’s how we build a 21st century labor movement. 

I got my start in the labor movement more than 50 years ago. And I’ve never been more excited than I am today. Union approval is at 62 percent, the highest in 16 years. 2018 was the biggest year for collective action in three decades. And MIT found that nearly half of non-union workers would vote to join a union today if given the chance. That’s more than 60 million people. Something is happening in America. Working people are rejecting an economy that leaves too many of us behind. 

I look around this room, and I remember why I’m in this fight. We turn bad jobs into good jobs. And, we turn good jobs into great jobs. We don’t do it for the money or the glory, the fame or the fortune. We do it because someone did it for us, and before that, someone did it for them. We do it because we’re called to. That’s who we are. We’re trade unionists. 

For 75 years, the UWUA has shown us how it’s done. You’ve provided utility workers with a pathway to the middle class and beyond. And, you’ve provided a pathway out of darkness for our communities. Literally. You got New York and New Jersey back online after Sandy. You helped rebuild Puerto Rico after Maria. Your Power for America Training Trust, a joint project of labor AND management, has given members the opportunity to learn and grow into the jobs of today and tomorrow. You’ve advocated forcefully for the modernization of our utility infrastructure which is good for our economy and our environment. 

And I know Brother Mike is especially proud of this one: Your Utility Workers Military Assistance Program has successfully trained more than 700 veterans for jobs in the industry. This includes a combat veteran and single mother of two in Chicago who was living in her car with little hope, and because of UMAP, she now has a job, her children have bright futures and she is serving as a mentor to new veterans in the program. 

This is the America we can...and must...win for all of us. Teachers and nurses, linemen and hotel workers, public and private, rural and urban, men and women, black and white, gay and straight, immigrant and native-born.

Brothers and sisters, are you with me? 

In the richest country in the world...at our richest point in history...every worker should be paid enough to support their family. One job should be enough! 

No one should ever go broke just because they get sick.

No one should ever be paid less because of their gender. 

No one should ever be fired for who they are. 

No one should ever die on the job!

Everyone should have a voice. 

Everyone should have a fair shot and a fair shake. 

And everyone should be able to form a union. 

This is our time. This is our moment. This is our country. And we’re taking it back for the people who work! 

One way we’re going to win a brighter future is by shaping the debate on energy. You know this because UWUA has been at the forefront, leading those tough discussions with environmental groups, putting a union stamp on the fight against climate change, showing that we can protect the environment AND create good-paying union jobs. It’s not an either-or. It’s a yes-and.

So when I hear terms like “just transition”...I must ask this: Does your plan for fighting climate change ask more from sick, retired coal miners than it does from you and your family? If it does, then you need to think again. Climate strategies that leave coal miners’ pension funds bankrupt...utility workers unemployed...construction workers making less than they do now...plans that devastate communities today, while offering vague promises about the future…are not worthy of the American heroes who build and power this country every day. 

But I want to be absolutely clear: We remain committed to the task of stopping runaway climate change. I say “we remain” because as the fight against climate change has taken on increased urgency, the labor movement ...in the United States and around the world...has supported urgent action. We supported the last real comprehensive climate bill, Waxman-Markey. We supported the Paris Accord, and we opposed President Trump’s destructive decision to withdraw from it

And, for the first time ever, at our convention in 2017, with the outspoken support of the UWUA and other unions in the energy sector...the AFL-CIO passed a climate resolution.

Our resolution strongly asserts that the fastest and most equitable way to address climate change is for labor to be at the center of creating solutions that reduce emissions...while investing in our communities, maintaining and creating high-wage union jobs and combating poverty.

And if we are truly going to focus on reducing emissions, then we must be open to all methods of clean energy—including nuclear and carbon capture and sequestration.

So if Congress wants to pass a climate bill, I’m all ears. But any proposal that doesn’t include high labor standards, raising wages and good union jobs is dead on arrival.

One important way we can create more good jobs in America is by passing the most important piece of legislation to be introduced in a long, long time. It’s called the PRO Act—Protecting the Right to Organize. In other words, letting us do our jobs without interference from anti-union employers or anti-worker politicians.

It protects the right to strike. It rolls back right to work. It includes first contract arbitration, substantial relief for workers whose rights have been violated and real penalties for employers who break the law.

If President Trump wants to build an economy that’s good for workers and not just Wall Street, he should stop giving tax cuts to corporations and the 1%, and demand that Congress send him the PRO Act today.

Protecting the right to organize is part of our broad vision for a better America.

To get there, we need to keep electing pro-worker candidates.

At our 2017 AFL-CIO Convention, we passed a resolution committing the labor movement to electing more union members to public office.

And in 2018, we did it.

Because of our efforts recruiting, training and supporting these candidates, nearly 1,000 additional union members are at the decision making table today. And that’s led to the passage of pro-worker legislation from coast to coast and everywhere in between.

Brothers and sisters, we need to carry this momentum into 2020.

There are many candidates running for president. Some are new faces. Many are friends...even good friends. But, this election is so much bigger than any individual.

2020 cannot be about personalities. It MUST be about workers.

That means talking to us and getting to know us. It means visiting our worksites and our union halls. It means marching on our picket lines. It means learning about our hopes and dreams...and understanding our concerns.

It means an agenda that is unambiguously pro-worker and pro-union. 

It means having a plan to make it easier to form unions and harder to bust them. It means knowing inside and out how our trade, tax, labor and immigration policies have been used to batter working families. And being ready to fix them on day one. 

It means not just talking about infrastructure, but actually getting the job done. 

It means a responsible approach to energy, supporting a new NAFTA that actually works for working people, championing a Workers’ Bill of Rights and rallying support for the PRO Act. It means filling the NLRB, the Labor Department, every single government agency and the courts with champions of collective bargaining.

And the first test of whether or not you’ll be a pro-union president is how you treat the people who work on your campaign. 

So, here’s my message to every candidate for president: Show us how committed you are to unionism and allow your campaign workers to organize. Be more than just a neutral party. Be an active partner. 

Many of the candidates I’ve spoken with have already made this commitment, and so far, a few campaigns have secured union cards. I hope others will follow suit. 

The late governor of New York, Mario Cuomo, said you campaign in poetry...and you govern in prose. But for too long, our elected leaders have campaigned in promises and governed in excuses. 

Or worse. 

2020 must be different. 

The stakes are too high, and working people are drawing a line in the sand this time. 

We’re refusing to settle for less in this election. Not when...in some parts of the country...it’s still harder to form a union than climb a mountain. Not when 40 percent of Americans don’t have $400 in the bank for an emergency. Not when more than 60 percent of workers haven’t seen a raise in more than a year, but CEO profits are at record highs!

Working people built this country from the ground up. We keep her running every day. Yet far too often, we’ve been disrespected, disregarded and abandoned. So, we are demanding from a president the same thing we demand of ourselves: Hard work. Integrity. Honor. Guts. Grit. And, sacrifice. It doesn’t matter if there’s a D, R or I next to your name. If you refuse to truly make the cause of workers your own, then we cannot endorse you. 

But...if you join us...and fight for us…and walk in our shoes...we will move heaven and earth to elect you. And together, we can put this country back where it belongs...in the hands of the workers who make it go.

We’ll march for it. We’ll organize for it. We’ll fight for it.

Brothers and sisters, are you ready to fight? ARE YOU READY TO FIGHT?

We’re going to fight for higher pay.

We’re going to fight for better health care.

We’re going to fight for a secure retirement.

And, we’re going to fight for an economy where every worker...every single worker...has the freedom to form a union and bargain collectively.

We’ve earned it, brothers and sisters. We teach, heal and make. We package, print and bake. We power America. In good times and bad. We care for the sick. We mine the coal. We serve our nation with dignity and pride. We stand tall. We don’t run and hide. We wake our country up every single day, and we tuck her into bed at night!

This is our time! This is our moment!

WE are the American labor movement...and we will not...WE WILL NOT...be denied!

Thank you, UWUA! God bless you!