Speech | Labor Law · Better Pay and Benefits

Trumka Vows to Fight Attacks on Federal Employee Collective Bargaining

Washington, D.C.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka delivered the following remarks at the AFGE Legislative and Grassroots Mobilization Conference:

Thank you, Brother Everett (Kelley). I am proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with you.

And I am proud to stand alongside every AFGE member who has fought back against some of the most ferocious and despicable political attacks in our nation’s history. 

For the past three years, your union has had a bullseye on its back.

The Trump administration has attacked your collective bargaining rights. They’ve attacked your members’ due process. They’ve attacked your very right to exist.

And just this weekend, we learned of their latest plan to strip collective bargaining from the hard-working Americans who serve our nation at the Department of Defense.

In 1962, President John F. Kennedy issued an executive order which said and I quote: “Employees of the federal government shall have and shall be protected in the exercise of...the right...freely and without fear of penalty or reprisal...to form, join and assist any employee organization.” 

He understood that collective bargaining was an exercise of freedom. 

He believed that federal employee unions were good for our nation and yes, for our national security. 

Now Donald Trump wants to retreat from generations of common sense policy for no other reason than he doesn’t like you. 

Brothers and sisters, we will fight this in the courts. We will fight this in Congress. We will fight this on every front and with every fiber of our being. And I promise you this: we’ll be here long after we send Donald Trump back to his gold-plated mansion. 

AFGE members are strong. You are powerful. You are devoted. And you are tough as nails. 

You don’t go into work every day for fame or fortune. You do it for our troops and the support they deserve at the DOD. You do it for our veterans and the care they need at the VA. You do it for our seniors and the Social Security and Medicare they rely on. You do it to carry out your oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States.

You are federal workers because you are patriots. 

And YOU DECIDED that there is nothing more American than forming a union. 

That fundamental right is why we raise our voices. It’s why we organize. It’s why we fight.

AFGE has been securing good jobs, dignity and respect for 88 years. 

During the Great Depression, agency leaders called for furloughs and tried to cut pay for federal workers. In one of the bleakest years of the Depression, America’s civil servants organized and demanded their pay be restored. They said enough was enough. And AFGE was born. 

That act of boldness and unity was an inspiration for people everywhere, even in those dark times. Private-sector workers looked to their brothers and sisters in the civil service and said, I want what they have. It started a wave of powerful organizing in America.

That’s what I want you to remember today: When you fight, you’re not just fighting for the brothers and sisters who share your foxhole. You’re fighting for everybody, everywhere. Your wins lift up everybody, everywhere.

When this union stands tall, workers everywhere grow taller. When this union pushes hard, workers everywhere push harder. 

Your legacy of solidarity has guided you through these painful past few years.

Even after the government shutdown…even after the legal letdowns…even after the executive orders aimed at your jugular…AFGE is still going strong.

In the budget agreement last year, federal workers won a raise and paid parental leave. Just last week, the House passed the PRO Act on a bipartisan vote, so workers in the private sector can form unions on a level playing field. We’re electing union members to public office from coast to coast and everywhere in between. And I know you are ready to get back to the bargaining table and win even more.

This administration has tried to act tough. But the only thing it has proved is that labor can take a punch, dust ourselves off, and keep demanding what’s rightfully ours: collective bargaining, a secure retirement, safe working conditions and fair wages.

That’s what we do. 

Just a few miles away, across the Anacostia River, you can visit the house of Frederick Douglass. As you know, he escaped slavery as a young man and spent the rest of his life fighting for justice and equality. So he knew a little something about standing up and rising up. His legacy is one we should all keep in mind now, during Black History Month.

Douglass once said that: “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did, and it never will.”

This conference is designed for you to make your demands known to the people in power.

Tell them you demand nothing less than dignity and respect at work.

Fill up the Hart Senate Office Building tomorrow. 

Tell your members of Congress to protect your pension and health care. 

Tell them that you expect their support for the fundamental right to collectively bargain. 

And tell them you’ll remember in November.

I know you may feel tired. But as I look out on this crowd, I see you’re battle-tested.

And in a fight between Donald Trump and AFGE, I will take America’s civil servants every day of the week. 

We will rise, brothers and sisters! And no right-winger or union-buster or government-basher can stop us.

As long as we stand up and fight back, as long as we lock arms, as long as we keep demanding better, we will rise. 

And we will win!

God bless you! God bless AFGE! God bless the American labor movement!

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