Trumka: When We Make PRO Act the Law, We Will Need to Make Millions of New Union Cards

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka's keynote address at the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades’ (IUPAT) “The Fight for the PRO Act” Facebook Live town hall, which included labor movement leaders and members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.

Good evening! Brother Ken Rigmaiden, thank you for that very kind introduction. And I can’t thank you enough for bringing us together tonight in support of the PRO Act. You are a trade unionist to the core. And you, Brother George Galis, Brother Jimmy Williams and the entire Painters and Allied Trades team are doing absolutely incredible work to lift up your members and empower our communities.

And you are doing it amid a pandemic and an economic crisis.

Right now, as I speak, President-elect Biden is proposing a long overdue COVID-19 relief plan. A plan he wants Congress to act on immediately and send to him in the first days of his presidency.

Honestly, there is a lot of good stuff in there. A lot of pieces that were in the HEROES Act.

Enhanced unemployment insurance, which Mitch McConnell let expire over the summer despite our nation being on the brink of a depression.

State and local aid, which Congressional Republicans refused to consider without a liability shield for the big businesses who line their pockets.

A federal standard to protect workers from COVID-19, which Donald Trump threw in the trash when he became president.

This is much-needed relief. Relief that will save more lives and more livelihoods—no doubt about it.

But all of us know—and the president-elect knows—there is one piece of legislation that will not just grow the economy, but transform America. And that’s the PRO Act.

The PRO Act is a total game-changer—a cornerstone of our Workers First Agenda.

The PRO Act is what motivated us to make phone calls and canvass workplaces during the election cycle.

The PRO Act is why we did everything in our power to hold a pro-worker House. Win a pro-worker White House. And sweep the Georgia runoffs so we could demote Mitch McConnell and get our agenda on the Senate floor.

Brothers and sisters, we ran the table!

Our work re-elected two proven champions who are with us tonight: Congressman Conor Lamb and Chairman Bobby Scott! Last year, they helped pass the PRO Act in the House. This year, we are going to get it to Joe Biden’s desk—come hell or high water!

Working people elected Joe, a man who promises to be the strongest labor president in modern history. A true friend of working people who looked CEOs square in the eye and said unions are going to have more power! You should have seen their faces. All they could do was nod!

And Joe is surrounding himself with people like Marty Walsh—a labor secretary from America’s labor movement. The first in nearly 50 years! And a building tradesman, I might add!

Without IUPAT, none of that would have happened. We would not have this incredible opportunity before us tonight.

Because today, nobody can say the PRO Act is just aspirational legislation. Or it’s a pipe dream. No! The PRO Act is in play!

But it will not pass without a fight. Corporate America will oppose us. Most Republicans will start at no. And some Democrats will be looking for a way out.

So we need to organize and mobilize in every state and every congressional district.

This is a generational opportunity. An opportunity for the labor movement and those who hope to join a union. Sixty million people would join a union today if given the chance. An MIT study confirmed that. And I’d wager that number is even higher because of this pandemic.

Well, the PRO Act would allow workers to form a union freely and fairly. It would make sure that workers can reach a first contract quickly after our union is recognized. It would end the practice of hiring permanent replacements to punish striking workers. It would hold corporations responsible, because it’s about damn time. And it would finally—finally—ban "right to work" once and for all.

Right to work is one of the last vestiges of Jim Crow. It is time to put it in the garbage can of history.

Right to work is the past. IUPAT is the future. Your union card provides a world-class apprenticeship, good wages and a dignified retirement.

But it’s more than that. Union members know we are stronger together. If you mess with one of us, you mess with all of us. A union card is a sacred symbol of solidarity.

When we make PRO Act the law, we will need to make millions of new union cards.

That’s good for every working person, whether we’re in a union or whether we hope to join one. When union membership is higher, worker power is greater! Our voices are louder! Our wages are better!

Between 1948 and 1973, hourly wages rose by more than 90 percent—90 percent! Look what happened over the next 40 years. From 1973 to 2013, productivity boomed by 74 percent! And at the same time, hourly wages rose by only nine percent!

We know why. Union membership in America hasn’t kept up.

And we also know why that happened. Policymakers on both sides failed us. At worst, they weakened the National Labor Relations Act and attacked collective bargaining rights. At best, they did little to reverse those amendments or failed to follow through on their promises.

Our power diminished. Politicians, the wealthy and big businesses took that power—our power—and used it against us.

To the shock of nobody, inequality skyrocketed. Inequality of income. Inequality of opportunity. And inequality of power. Right now, the rich and corporations are way too powerful. And working people are way too weak.

It is time to change the power dynamics in America and the PRO Act is how we do it! It puts power back into our hands—the hands of working people.

This is a monumental moment.

You can tell because our opponents are panicking about the PRO Act. Their power is on the line. They’re going to go all out to stop us, divide us and break us. We won’t let them. Hell no!

It’s going to us—all of IUPAT and all of America’s labor movement—to push the PRO Act forward and pressure our leaders to make it law.

This time must be different!

Pro-worker candidates won on Election Day. Now we need to win our Workers First Agenda. And keep the PRO Act at the top of the agenda, not on the backburner.

So, get ready to mobilize and organize like never before.

If you want to change the direction of this country, if you want to win a new era for America’s workers, if you want to guarantee that all work has dignity, let’s get the PRO Act across the finish line!

This is a moment for unions, a moment made by unions. Made and crafted by IUPAT! And when we make the PRO Act the law of the land, we’re going to bring more working people together and give working people more power. And on that day, you mark my words, we will have one hell of a celebration.

Thank you. And God bless you.