Remarks by AFL-CIO President Richard L. Trumka
Las Vegas, Nevada - August 17, 2011
Thank you, Leo [Gerard], my friend and my brother, for inviting me to be here with you at your convention. You're a dynamic leader of a dynamic union.
[To audience] You know, there aren't many people I love more than I love Leo Gerard - he's a fighter, he's loyal to his roots, but always looking forward-a fresh thinker, and this man has a heart of pure gold. Thank goodness the labor movement has Leo Gerard.
I could give you a thousand examples, but there's one campaign I want to especially point to today. In Los Angeles California, thousands of car wash workers face deplorable working conditions every day. These workers want, deserve and are willing to fight to have a union but the odds stacked against them are enormous. After seeing the abuses faced by these courageous workers, Leo committed the might and power of the Steel Workers-and you set out to change the entire industry.
In just the past few weeks, "car washeros" have experienced the sweet taste of victory. One particularly vicious owner has signed a neutrality and card check agreement, and on Monday USW Local 675 was recognized as the collective bargaining representative for the workers at the Bonus and Marina car washes.
Another owner recognized the car washeros' union several weeks ago, and they're bargaining a first contract now. A third car wash in downtown LA has also agreed to card check/neutrality language and we are hopeful for recognition soon.
This is a campaign that skeptics declared was unwinnable. But, President Gerard doesn't shrink from tough odds when it comes to worker justice.
And just like your president, the Steelworkers is a strong union, a forward-thinking union -- a fighting union.
Nobody has fought as hard against the exporting of jobs and to save and revitalize American manufacturing as the Steelworkers. Nobody has presented and won more trade cases. Nobody has fought as hard to eliminate illegal foreign subsidies.
And nobody knows better than you what happens when politicians give away pieces of America with bad trade deals. What happens when a factory closes-that the bottom drops out of a local economy, that everyone suffers the loss, from the public schools to the housing market to the local diners.
Brothers and sisters, this is a tough time for working people in America. It's harder and harder to hang on to our jobs, our homes, middle-class wages, the benefits we spent decades bargaining for and the basic workers' rights that make middle-class life possible.
But we didn't get into the labor movement to sit around, fat and happy, did we? We got into the labor movement to stand strong for working families, and with working families.
Sisters and brothers, we're being tested today, and we know there is more to come. But we will pass through the fire.
And we'll do it together-miners and manufacturing workers, dockworkers and machinery operators, glassworkers and utility workers, teachers, nurses, scientists, hotel workers. We will pass through that fire to build a new day for all of working America, and for our families and our communities across the United States and Canada.
Are you ready to walk with me through the fire? To walk with Leo? Are you ready to walk together through that fire? To put it all on the line?
Brothers and sisters, most of us in this hall still have the good fortune to live a middle-class life, thanks to those who came before us, whose faith and hard work won for us the American Dream.
We may live under the constant threat of our jobs being exported and stolen, but our union contracts give us, and our members, a measure of stability, decent wages and benefits, and the hope of a secure retirement.
All around us, though, we can see the cynical flag-wavers, the false patriots who say the American Dream is too rich for us. These politicians and CEOs tell us we have to downgrade our expectations and downsize the American Dream. We can't afford that dream any more, they say. No, we've got to give that dream up and make some tough choices.
Sisters and brothers, they haven't just given up the dream. They've given up on America!
America isn't broke-this country is wealthy as hell. But something in America sure is broken! Because for the last 20 years, 100 percent of all our income gains have gone to the wealthiest 10 percent of us. There's plenty of money-it's just stuck in record-sized corporate bank accounts and CEO paychecks and not making its way into workers' pockets.
So while our wages are flat or falling, and 25 million of us are looking for full-time jobs, politicians are stuck-focused on phony deficit crises instead of our real crisis -- the jobs crisis.
And they're telling us we need to accept shared sacrifice.
Brothers and sisters, when they talk about shared sacrifices and tough choices-I say that's a bunch of bull! Working families-young workers, seniors, people of color, poor people and people with disabilities-we've been doing all the sacrificing -- all of it! All the tough choices are being made for us and done to us.
Our governments, our schools, our police and fire departments are starving for money, while hedge fund billionaires get tax cuts, and Wall Street corporations still get tax incentives to export good jobs overseas!
It's not just wrong, it's shameful. It's insane, and for the future of our country, it has to be stopped!
And it's not going to be those false patriots who stop it. They'd rather force America to default on its debts than tell CEOs to pay their fair share in taxes so we can invest in our future, in our infrastructure, in good, green jobs, in top-notch education and training, in high-speed rail, like the countries we compete with are doing.
Hell, they got us into this mess in the first place!
But you and I, and the other 12 million of us in the AFL-CIO-we're not ready to give up on America, are we?
We're not going to stop believing in America. We're not going to give up on our country, not today, not tomorrow, not ever!
I'll tell you what else we're not going to do. We're not going to be content to fight defensively to preserve a little bit of the good life for a few of us, as we all get worse-off year by year.
No. We're going to turn this broken economy around, with our energy and our ideas, our commitment, our sweat and our hard work.
We're done playing defense after that debt-ceiling debacle on Capitol Hill and the battles in state capital after state capital. Right now, our offensive team is fired up and what we're after is jobs -- good jobs!
We're fighting for jobs, brothers and sisters, and we're not just talking about it!
I'm proud to say that the entire AFL-CIO has been hard at work on job-creating programs, because we believe in America. This summer our Building and Construction Trades Department and a coalition of public unions led partners from the worlds of government, investment and business to make a plan to channel billions of dollars into investments to create jobs, to make America more competitive and energy-efficient, and to train union workers for the future.
America wants to work!
This fall, we're going to build a sustained jobs campaign with a National Week of Action to show that America wants to work! We're going to shift the national debate away from deficits and toward good jobs and workers' rights!
And you're going to be at the center of this effort. Educating and mobilizing Steelworkers-educating and mobilizing your families, and your neighbors, and your congregations, and the Moose Lodge and the bowling league and the carpool, to fight with you for good jobs.
We all know that work is more than a job. It's what puts food on our families' tables, but it's really more than that, isn't it?
It's pride. It's our sense of ourselves. Along with our families and our faith, work is what gives meaning to everything we do. Work connects us all, whether we punch a clock in a factory or a laboratory, whether we take our lunch break at an auto parts assembly plant or an interstate overpass or a school cafeteria, whether our name is on the front door, or on the front of our shirt. Our jobs are interconnected, and so is our fate.
We rise together, or we fall alone.
And together, we know we don't have to settle for 9 percent unemployment, stagnant wages, benefit give-backs, record inequality, destruction of our entire middle-class way of life.
Sisters and brothers, this is America. We can do better. We have to do better.
We have to fight for the future we know is possible-a future of long-term, broadly shared prosperity.
It's out there, we just have to fight for it! We built it once for America, and we can do it again!
Brothers and sisters, we have a long way to go before we can fix our broken trade practices.
We have a long way to go before we can ensure that every working woman and man in America has the freedom to form a union and bargain for a better life.
But I don't care how steep the hill, how long the climb, or how hot the fire, we've got to start now! How else will we make America a country that makes things again? How else will we foster and keep enough good jobs to support our working families, our communities, our cities and our states?
Brothers and sisters, the future of working people and the essence of our American democracy is on the line.
We can only win this fight if we hold together. All of us. Private-sector with public-sector, conservatives with progressives.
We need to stand together for a future, when CEOs aren't the only ones who can make ends meet.
A future when every single worker has the fundamental right to be treated with dignity, to put in a hard, honest day's work and be rewarded fairly for it, to have the health care and retirement security we need and the opportunity to see our children a little better off than we are.
That's the world we want, the world we deserve.
And we'll work for it. We'll stand for it. We'll fight for it. Together.
Together, to bring out the best in America. Together, to bring out the best in ourselves and each other.
To take back America for the working men and working women who build it, and make it run.
And, we will never, ever, ever back down.
Thank you, and God bless you and the work you do.