AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka held a press call to introduce the Workers First Agenda to fight back against COVID-19 and build an economy that puts more power and prosperity into the hands of working people. He also discussed the role the labor movement has in preserving democracy after last week’s riot incited by President Trump. He delivered the following remarks:
Good morning. Thank you for joining this call.
I’m excited to talk about our Workers First Agenda, but I want to start with a few words about what happened in Washington last week. And in particular, why it matters to working people.
The future of America’s labor movement is intertwined with the fate of democracy. Our democracy is not promised on a piece of paper. It’s up to us. It lives in us. It’s personal for us.
Unions both thrive on and contribute to democracy.
What happened at the Capitol was the result of many things. Economic and political systems failing to serve the majority of working people. The Electoral College being so arcane that a president and members of Congress thought they could manipulate the rules to steal an election. Fear. Hate. Disinformation. Conspiracies. And yes, white supremacy.
If striking workers stormed the Capitol, tactical teams would have been deployed in seconds. And if people of color had crossed the barricades, a massacre would have followed.
Last week was a new low for the outgoing administration. An administration that has driven America to the brink of depression and civil war. Americans are shocked, but we should not be surprised. And we cannot give a pass to a president responsible for sedition.
That is why the AFL-CIO’s general board called on President Trump to resign or to be removed from office. He incited this insurrection. He pushed judges and lawmakers to overturn democratic election results. He knew exactly what he was doing.
There was no voter fraud—we all know that. Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz know that. Even Trump knows that. Trump is outraged because Black and Brown Americans voted, and their votes counted. In cities like Atlanta and Detroit and Philadelphia, Americans of all creeds and colors voted against Trump and for a Workers First Agenda.
An agenda that has newfound momentum with last week’s victories in Georgia.
A pro-worker House. A pro-worker Senate. And the most pro-worker president since Lyndon Johnson. What a great opportunity. And what a great responsibility.
Today, we are unveiling the Workers First Agenda. It is bold, comprehensive and exactly what America needs to meet this moment of pain and uncertainty.
At the center of this agenda is the PRO Act—Protecting the Right to Organize. This worker empowerment legislation would allow millions to freely and fairly form a union. So we can raise wages and expand health care. So we can make workplaces safer and retirement more secure. So we can expand opportunities for women, immigrants, people of color and the LGBTQ community.
The PRO Act is more than labor law reform legislation. It’s an economic stimulus bill. It’s a civil rights package. So we are going to fight like hell to pass it. An MIT study shows that more than 60 million Americans would join a union today if they could. And that number has increased during this pandemic.
No American should ever have to choose between our health and a paycheck. That is why workers’ safety is another priority of our agenda. We will never get this pandemic under control if we cannot protect working people. That starts with emergency COVID-19 OSHA and MSHA standards so we can protect workers from this virus. We must also expand access to free vaccines and rapid testing, and ensure an adequate supply of PPE by executive order and through the Defense Production Act. And it is long past time to guarantee paid sick days, paid family leave and child care for all working people. None of this is controversial—just common sense. More than 325,000 Americans are dead.
Worker safety is how we begin to beat the virus. Investment in good jobs—union jobs—and infrastructure built by union workers is how we start to recover from it. Strengthening worker power and rebuilding America’s crumbling infrastructure is at the core of Joe Biden’s Build Back Better agenda. These promises resonate with our members, especially after Trump promised us the moon and gave us the shaft. It is time to invest trillions of dollars—that’s trillions with a T—to rebuild our roads, bridges, schools and energy systems with union wages and standards.
And as we start to rebuild, we must remember that any hope for recovery is impossible without equity. That is why racial justice is a key component of this agenda. Structural racial inequity exists in nearly every facet of our country. Our workplaces, our health care system, our criminal justice system. This has always been true but never been clearer. It’s why the incoming administration should appoint a racial equity czar. We need someone dedicated to leading an interagency task force that directly addresses racial injustice in all the places it exists.
And we need to rebuild the safety net for everyone who lives and works here. That means economic security for everybody. Health care security. Retirement security. Food and housing security. This will never be a reality if we don’t strengthen Social Security or shore up multiemployer pensions. If we don’t lower prescription drug prices and lower the Medicare eligibility age to 50. If we don’t strengthen existing health care protections or rebuild the broken unemployment system.
Look, none of this will be easy, but all of it is necessary. When Americans casted their ballots in this seminal election, this is what they voted for. This is why working people poured our blood, sweat and tears into this campaign season. We did it to win a Workers First Agenda.
I started working in the mines as a teenager and have been a union member ever since. America’s labor movement has never been more united than we are today.
In one week and one day, Joe Biden will be inaugurated. We are ready to work with him every day that follows. To heal our country. To empower working people. And to build a sustainable economy and a stronger democracy for generations to come.
It’s time to go big. Working people expect nothing less.
Thank you. I’ll now open it up for questions.