Speech | Better Pay and Benefits

Trumka to Western District Strategy Meeting: Working People Ready to Go on Offense

Buena Park. California

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka delivered the following closing remarks at the Western District Strategy Session: 

Thank you, brothers and sisters.

This has been a very productive meeting. We covered a lot of ground.

We talked about the political landscape, the need to increase our density and the ways we can use the 2018 election to engage with our members.

We talked about the Workers’ Bill of Rights and our Path to Power program which is helping elect more union members to office.

We talked about the threats of Janus and right to work and our power to overcome them.

I am confident that we will leave here today with a clear vision and mission for growing our movement and winning worker power.

This has never been more important.

We are the only organized voice for working people in America.

And guess what: momentum is on our side!

260,000 new union members joined our ranks in 2017 despite a very difficult organizing environment.

Three quarters of new union members are under the age of 34. The future is bright!

As we gain density, we gain power. As we grow in numbers, we grow in influence. That’s how we start to build the America working people need.

Brothers and sisters, we’ve been on defense for too long. It is time to go on offense. Let’s drop our shield and pick up two swords.

We want a good job for everyone in America who wants to work. That means the freedom to bargain with your employer for a fair wage and a good life.

We want health care as a fundamental human right.

We should be expanding Medicare to cover everyone 55 and older. We should rein in the power and influence of drug companies. And we should repeal the tax on union health plans once and for all.

We want retirement security. Real retirement security!  Let’s expand Social Security and protect our pensions. Bigger and better, brothers and sisters.

We want the best infrastructure in the world. Roads. Bridges. Rail. High speed internet. Water that doesn’t poison our citizens.

The plan President Trump released earlier this week is another Wall Street giveaway. It includes only a fraction of the federal dollars needed to rebuild our infrastructure. It pits rural and urban communities against each other. And it embraces privatization. We can do better. Congress MUST do better! We need trillions of dollars in investment. That’s trillions with a T. Let’s rebuild this country with union labor and prevailing wages.

We want a fair tax system. Unfortunately, President Trump’s new tax law gives away $1.5 trillion to the country's richest and most powerful corporate interests. And WE are footing the bill. Take the state and local deduction, which Republicans capped for the first time in history. That means working people are actually paying more in taxes, not less. The average Oregonian will be out $2,600 for the year. Right here in California, you’re going to lose $8,000. $8,000...that's a year's tuition at Cal State or a nice family vacation. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the new tax law gives companies even more incentives to ship American jobs overseas.

And speaking of outsourcing, we want a new direction on trade that upholds labor rights and ends special privileges for corporations. Let’s fix NAFTA the right way so it raises wages across North America.

Last but not least, we need to stop terrorizing immigrant workers. These are our brothers and sisters. I am sick and tired of the political games. I am sick and tired of employers cheating, exploiting and misclassifying immigrant workers. What hurts you hurts me. What’s lifts me up lifts you up. Let’s give immigrants a path to citizenship so we can all rise together as one American family.

These issues are the backbone of our political program. We are committed to electing leaders who share our values and support our issues, regardless of what party they belong to. And we’re going to hold every single one of them accountable once elected. This will help us build the political strength and credibility to finally level the playing field for working families. And we know the best way to advance our agenda is to elect more union members to public office.

Working people are ready to turn the tide, go on offense and win.

The labor movement is demonstrating our power. Facebook cafeteria workers from California to Washington voted to join UNITE HERE. Baggage handlers in Seattle and aircraft fuelers in Anchorage won strong new union contracts with the Machinists. Newsroom staff at the Casper Star-Tribune in Wyoming filed for an NLRB election. USW members in Idaho are bravely out on strike at the Lucky Friday Mine. Montana’s two largest public employee unions, MEA-MFT and the Montana Public Employees Association, have merged to form a larger, stronger affiliate in preparation for Janus. And our political program in Hawaii has led to pro-worker majorities of 25-0 in the State Senate and 45-5 in the State House.

The test of 2018…and beyond…will be to build on these successes. Each election, each organizing drive, each legislative battle…will showcase our growing clout. But I believe you’ll see the impact of our momentum on an even broader level.

When more union members fill the halls of power…when wages go up and inequality shrinks…when we have more pro-labor Republicans and fewer corporate-beholden Democrats…when a growing number of young people see the value of democracy and that we can and will change the rules of this economy…when we stop defining victory as not losing...and most of all...when more workers realize their own value and the power of solidarity…that’s when you’ll know unions are on the rise.

Let’s show working people we can win! Let’s deliver the change America is hungry for. It’ll take some risk. It’ll take solidarity, but we can make it happen by standing together, marching together, fighting together… shoulder to shoulder… arm in arm… as long as it takes… let’s do it! To take America back! For workers! For the country we love! Thank you very much!

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