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OPCMIA East and West Coast Business Managers’ Meeting

Richard Trumka • March 16, 2017 • Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Thank you, President [Dan] Stepano.  Congratulations.  You’re a powerful leader at a crucial time, and I’m proud to stand beside you and every member of your storied union.

Listen, these are challenging times for our labor movement and our nation.  Pay is too low. Inequality is too high.  Good jobs are few and far between.  But over the past four or five years, something has changed.  Working people are speaking out.  We are shaping the debate.  We want better.  And we are making one thing abundantly clear: we do not work for any politician or political party.  We will not be an ATM for the Democrats or a rubber stamp for the Republicans. We will lead with our issues and our values.  We will put our members and families first. Political independence is the way forward.  It will strengthen our credibility and effectiveness. And that’s how we build an America that works for working people.

Political independence allowed us to take on a Democratic president and defeat the job-killing Trans-Pacific Partnership.  Political independence empowered us to stand up to a Republican president and defeat a no-good, wage-stealing, robot-loving nominee for Secretary of Labor.  In both cases, we rallied in towns and cities across the country, flooded Congress with calls and e-mails and made our position clear.  And we won.  Remember that.  We won.

Working people are leading the way.  We’re building a political movement for good jobs and better lives.  There is nothing more important in America right now.  For decades, our economy has been tilted to favor the wealthy few at our expense.  The vast majority of Americans want the rules of the economy to benefit us, not the rich, not the wealthy, not Wall Street.  That’s what we are pushing for.

Good jobs and raising wages is how we will measure the Trump Administration.  President Trump promised throughout his campaign to make life better for American workers.  But talk is cheap.  When the president does something good for working people and good for the economy, we’ll say so, and we’ll work for it.  When he does things that are bad for working people and bad for the economy, that lower our wages and make our workplaces less safe, that threaten our pensions and health care, we will fight him every step of the way.  President Trump gets to choose his path.  In us, he will either have a constructive partner or an unrelenting, resourceful and tough opponent.

We’re building a movement, brothers and sisters.  It’s a powerful movement where unions grow and inequality shrinks.  It’s a movement where you can grab onto the American Dream no matter what you look like, where you come from, how much money your parents have or who you love.

When it comes to doing right for working people, we define that vision.  We embody those values.  We will fix what’s broken in our country.  We have unity.  We have solidarity.  And we are ready to win justice and jobs today and a better tomorrow.

Brothers and sisters, the Operative Plasterers and Cement Masons are a great union.  You know that.  You’re the original Helmets to Hardhats program, dating back to the Civil War.  I love your history, and your work ethic.  Excellence is your watchword.  Your apprentice programs are top-notch.  And I’m glad to hear your employment outlook is good.

I want to talk to you for a few minutes about solidarity and union strength, and I want to talk to you about divisions.

All through this last election campaign, as I worked hard for our union-endorsed candidates, I spoke to union members who planned to vote for Donald Trump.  The AFL-CIO studied the situation and made a different recommendation, but I respect each and every one of those individuals, and I would stand by them through thick and thin.  Far more important than who we vote for is our shared interests and our shared values.  Every single member I talked to wanted a stronger union, better jobs and higher wages.

Over the past few months, I’ve had conversations with union leaders and union members who want pipelines, and I’ve spoken with others who are dead set against them.  That’s okay.  We can disagree.  But at the end of the day, when it comes to building a more effective labor movement and a stronger America, we must always stand together, arms locked in solidarity.

That’s how we’ll win the big fights on trade, on jobs, on workers’ rights.  And it’s how we must continue to push back against attacks on our health care, like the so-called Cadillac Tax.  This ugly and unfair tax hits working people directly, and it will destroy our health plans.  We have given up wage increases time and time again to preserve our health care.  We fought for it.  We bargained for it.  We earned it.  This tax was a bad idea when Democrats included it in the Affordable Care Act.  It’s a bad idea now that Republicans are pushing it.  For more than a century, the labor movement has fought to make health care a right for every American.  Congress should focus on improving and building on the Affordable Care Act, our current employment-based system, Medicare and Medicaid.  Brothers and sisters, if you come after our health care, we will fight you tooth and nail.

Playing defense is important.  But we also need a proactive, pro-worker agenda.  In his speech to Congress, President Trump proposed a massive infrastructure investment — $1 trillion dollars. We’ve wanted that for years.  It’s an important proposal, and America needs it, but it had better come with Davis-Bacon and powerful Buy America provisions.  We’ll gladly partner with President Trump for every single thing that working families need.  But I had to wonder about all of those Congressional Republicans who stood up and cheered for investing in infrastructure. Where were they for the last 8 years when President Obama was proposing the very same thing? This is the type of partisan politics that drive our members crazy.  So my message to Congress is this: Cut the crap.  Pass a bill.  Do it the right way.  Put America to work.

We can, and we will, win a new set of rules for the American economy.  It won’t be easy, but nothing worth doing ever is.  And if for a minute you think it can’t be done, just consider that two years ago everybody and their brother thought the TPP was a done deal.  And just a few weeks ago Andy Puzder looked like a slam dunk to be the next Secretary of Labor.

But working people had a different idea.  We mobilized.  We educated workers, and in the end, we came out on top.  We learned a powerful lesson: nothing is inevitable.  We saw activism work.

America wants more of that activism, not less.  By a margin of two to one, registered voters want to increase Social Security benefits.  By a margin of 3 to 1, folks want to tax companies on overseas profits and increase funding for public schools.  People overwhelmingly support higher wages and more investments in infrastructure.  And a growing number believe in unions!  Make no mistake, momentum is on our side.

We can win everything we need to build a better life.  Our vision will lift us all up.   We can do it, because we’re the ones who drive the buses and run the trains.  We build the bridges and lift the loads.  We teach the classes and care for the sick.  We build America, and defend her.  We do America’s work.  We make America go.  We want our share of the American Dream, brothers and sisters, and we’ll stand for it.  We’ll march for it. We’ll win it!

Brothers and sisters, America remains the wealthiest nation in the history of the world.  We can support middle-class jobs and succeed.  We can be pro-worker and pro-business.  We can trade fairly and form unions freely.  That’s what America is all about.  But it will take hard work and solidarity.

Any economist will tell you consumer spending drives 70% of the American economy.  When workers earn a living wage, we are more likely to buy a new washing machine, replace the tires on the car or take a long-overdue vacation.  That’s why the best way to build a strong, sustainable economy is with wage-driven growth.  When I help you up, it gives me a boost. When you help me up, the way gets easier for somebody else.  It’s not easy.  When it counts, solidarity is hard.  We’ve got to stand together during the long night, when it’s cold, when the outcome is uncertain.  That’s when it matters.  Solidarity.  Arms locked.  Shoulder-to-shoulder. To win a better life!

That’s the American way.  It’s the union way.  It’s solidarity, and it works, brothers and sisters. You know how to win for America’s hard-working families.  You’ve done it many, many times, and you’ll do it again tomorrow.  When we stand together, we win together.

Thank you, and God bless you and the work you do.

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