Speech | Workplace Health and Safety

Trumka: We Will Pass This Test

Washington, D.C.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka delivered the following Facebook Live address outlining the labor movement's response to the coronavirus outbreak:

My name is Rich Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO.

Thank you for tuning in. Thank you for your hundreds of questions. Thank you for keeping this country strong.

Leading America’s labor federation is the greatest honor of my life.

55 unions proud. 12.5 million members strong. 

We are the nurse.

We are the teacher. 

We are the firefighter and the grocery store worker.

We are the pilot and the flight attendant.

We are the steelworker, the autoworker and the mineworker.

We are the actor and the stagehand.

We are in every state and every community.

We are from every background, every race, every religion, every sexual orientation and every gender identity.

We are young and old. Public and private sector.

We built this country. We serve this country. We are this country. 

And we are hurting. 

Hurting for those who are sick. Hurting for those who are scared. Hurting for each other. Hurting for our nation.

But even in the face of a public health emergency, a pending economic catastrophe and the utter disruption of life as we know it, working people are showing that no crisis is too great. No task is too tall. No challenge is too daunting.

Frontline workers are risking their lives to save others. They are running toward this virus. They are the embodiment of courage. 

Workers of every stripe are supporting those in need—the sick, the laid off, the isolated, the vulnerable—with money and encouragement and love and solidarity.

Our bond cannot be broken. Our spirit cannot be shaken. We will get through this. We will pass this test. 

The courage of working people shines even brighter when compared to the indifference of our leaders in government. 

President Trump and his administration were woefully unprepared for this outbreak.

Their response has put politics over science and greed over good.

Workers—especially those who do not yet have a union—are undeniably less safe because of this president. 

Over the past three years, he has systematically rolled back workplace protections and cut funding for the programs that keep us safe, healthy and alive. 

The agency charged with protecting workers—OSHA—is rudderless and still without a full-time director. And today there are fewer workplace inspectors and health specialists than at any point in history.

There was a contingency plan for a situation like the one created by the coronavirus. Progress was being made on a permanent infectious disease workplace standard.

A strong enforceable standard would have provided employers both the tools and the mandate to protect workers from infection.

But President Trump halted it once taking office.

This is part of the Trump administration’s pattern of reckless and dangerous deregulation.

Instead of strengthening worker protections, President Trump is scrapping them. 

Lisa, a member of the Ohio Nurses Association, asked me what we can do to encourage more N95 masks to protect frontline workers from exposure?

The accounts from nurses like Lisa have been heartbreaking. Stories of nurses making their own masks out of gowns.

Clearly, our frontline health care workers don’t have the protective equipment they need to take care of patients. 

And the government is not being transparent about what is available and how to get it. 

So we are calling on the administration to specifically put someone in charge to make sure our national stockpile is distributed to those workers in greatest need.

I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

Because of the administration’s incompetence, a deadly disease may soon give way to a Great Depression if we don’t take dramatic steps to rescue working people from a disaster we did nothing to cause.

This cannot be business as usual.

First and foremost, we need to solve the public health crisis. 

Every worker should get 14 paid sick days, no matter where they work and no matter how they are classified.

Coronavirus testing and treatment must be free and accessible to all who need it. 

We must expand our hospital and intensive-care capacity as fast as we can, no matter the cost.

Second, while the economy is ground to a halt, we’re going to need the government to step up in a massive way.

We need to fix our unemployment insurance system—broaden it to all working people and increase the benefits. 

We need to get help to every entity that drives our economy: workers, households, businesses, and state and local governments.

This is particularly urgent right now in aviation, hospitality, entertainment, construction and education.

Michael, an AFT member in New York, asked what message we can send to ensure that the rich and corporations don’t use this public health crisis to further erode the middle and working classes.

Michael, you’ve hit the nail on the head. Let me be perfectly clear.

If you are a business that gets money to weather the storm, you must use it for the common good.

No layoffs, no wage cuts, no benefit cuts, no busting of union contracts.

No stock buybacks. No bonuses.

No way. No how. No more. These are the conditions we are insisting on.

Finally, once we’ve weathered this crisis, we should make the big investments in our country and each other that are long overdue. 

We should finally rebuild our infrastructure through a massive trillion dollar investment that will put our construction workers back on the job and spur economic growth. 

And we should pass the PRO Act and the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act because a stronger labor movement means a stronger America. 

As I conclude, I’ve been thinking a lot about a question I got from Garrett, a member of the National Association of Letter Carriers in Seattle.

He wondered if this crisis may be an opportunity for the labor movement to increase the number of union jobs in this country.

Garrett, my answer is: YES! YES! YES!

I’ve been at this for 50 years.

And I’ve never been more optimistic about the future of the labor movement.

We’ve endured 9-11 and a Great Recession. We’ve come together in the face of right to work, incomparable corporate greed and now, a deadly disease and a lawless president who is a threat to our lives and livelihoods. 

And guess what? We’re still standing. 

The seeds of a union resurgence have been planted in every corner of this country. 

Our popularity is at a nearly-50-year high.

60 million Americans would vote to join a union today if given the chance.

Workers are positioned to make the difference in the 2020 election—and we will. 

Our values—hard work, dignity, respect—are needed more today than ever before. 

Unions built America. We can protect and care for our people and our families...and we will rebuild America. 

And I promise you this: there WILL be a better day.

God bless you. God protect our frontline workers. God bless the American labor movement.