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Remarks by AFL-CIO President Richard L. Trumka, 2012 International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Allied Workers Convention, Las Vegas, Nevada

Richard Trumka • July 17, 2012

Thank you for inviting me to your convention, Jim [Grogan], and thank you, Buddy [McCourt], for that generous introduction. 

Thank you all for being here today. 

I’d like to begin by acknowledging the leadership of your president. Jim, you’re a great friend and a trade unionist through and through. You’re not a guy who tries to take credit, but you’ve got credit due. You’re a man with no calendar and no clock—You’re on 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. To your credit, you always have time for anybody and everybody. 

And even in these hard times, you and your team have built your membership and invested in your apprenticeship programs. That’s the secret to the future. You’re a good Jersey guy and a family man. I’m proud to call you my brother. 

I feel exactly the same way about Buddy McCourt. And, Buddy, there’s just one thing I want to know. What the heck is the real story with you and your truck, the wreck, and the flag pole? It’s time for you to come clean, Buddy! You’re among friends. You can fill me in later. I promise I won’t tell. 

But seriously, brothers and sisters, help me give a hand to two leaders who deserve a little recognition. Thank you, Jim. Thank you, Buddy. For what you are and all you do. 

Brothers and sisters, you’ve seen the AFL-CIO video about military veterans rebuilding the World Trade Center through Helmets to Hardhats. Let’s hear it for those workers! And for the Building Trades for creating Helmets to Hardhats—and for growing that program for our heroes who need it! 

We can all be proud of those union members, our military veterans, who have been working hard in New York City erecting new towers at Ground Zero, the site of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. 

As the towers collapsed on that bright and sunny day nearly 11 years ago, Jansel Rodriguez knew he would be deployed to Afghanistan, and he was.  He was a member of the U.S. Army, and he went on to fight for his nation, just as he said he would when he enlisted. 

In that video, you also met Davis Ruiz, a veteran of the U.S. Army Reserve—he, too, knew when those towers went down that he would serve his nation. He did, and now both Jansel and Davis have careers helping to rebuild the World Trade Center. 

Friends, these two men served side by side for our country when we needed them. And today they’re side by side again, putting the finishing touches on a construction project unlike any other—because the towers of the World Trade Center symbolize the enduring strength of America’s character. This is how they’re giving back, they tell us—as if they haven’t given enough. This is how they’ve brought back what we lost. That takes responsibility.  It takes hard work.  

These two men, these members of Insulators Local 12 in New York City, and all of America’s service men and women, exemplify what I want to talk about with you today. These two union members are the embodiment of hard work and responsibility in America. 

Their values are union values. We watch out for each other. We serve when we’re needed. When we make a promise, we keep it.  Our word is our bond. Period. 

Without hard work and responsibility, there is no American Dream. Hard work lays the foundation. Our solidarity makes work pay—for all of us. For the greater good. That’s what shared prosperity is all about.Those are the values we share, brothers and sisters. 

And as a labor movement, we have to make sure we honor those values every day too – we have to be the best we can be. So we’re looking hard at ourselves, at what we do for all working people across America, -- union and nonunion alike. We’re looking at our strengths, we’re looking at what we need to change. As unions, and as a movement, we can and we will be even better than we are today. 

That’s our duty. That’s our charge. And it’s only right. 

We’re holding ourselves to the same high standards we use to judge the politicians we campaign for, and against. 

So let me talk about a leader who shares my thoughts about responsibility. President Barack Obama – he’s taken our country through a tough time, and he’s done it with courage and conviction. Last week, he called on Congress to end tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires – and extend tax cuts for the middle class --and the far-right and the 1% have been pounding him ever since! 

What’s the problem?  If Romney and the right-wing say we can’t pay for better schools and safe highways and bridges, if we can’t hire teachers and firefighters and cops, well, we sure as hell can’t afford more tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires! 

Friends, I’m angry about what’s happening in Washington! Why is it wrong to ask everybody to pay their fair share?  Why is it wrong to talk about common-sense ways to raise the dollars we need to put America back to work? Why is it political poison to raise the money we need? It’s crazy! 

It’s up to us to make sure the politicians who play those games pay a steep political price! The American people are on our side. In poll after poll, 65 percent and more of Americans say asking a little more from wealthy individuals and profitable corporations is a good idea! 

It’s up to us to stand with President Obama.  He took that risk and made that stand last week to end tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, because he knows that the American Dream isn’t free. And he believes that every one of us should pay our fair share! That’s what working people do.  That’s what responsible people do. 

We already paid our share. Wall Street got the bail out, but we got the layoffs. CEOs got the raises, but we got the cuts. It’s not right! These are people—mothers and fathers, families and children—who are hurting, and—damn it—we won’t let it stand!                                                                     

Values matter.  What we do as individuals, what we do as a nation, says everything about who we are! 

Now I don’t believe Mitt Romney has my values, and I don’t think he knows anything about the American Dream. He believes in the Etch-a-sketch theory, to say whatever he thinks you want to hear.

Brothers and sisters, Mitt Romney’s word is not his bond. It’s his convenience! 

He doesn’t care about hard work and responsibility. He doesn’t care that he created and ran a company that pioneered the practice of offshoring good jobs -- good union jobs -- to China and wherever else the labor is cheap. 

Mitt Romney doesn’t know a thing about responsibility. 

Hey, it was profitable for him to bleed companies, kill jobs, end pensions in bankruptcy court and then walk away with millions. What did he care? 

Maybe that’s fine for Mitt, but it doesn’t fly with me. It won’t fly with working families. And it won’t fly in the White House! 

Call me old-fashioned, but I think it’s important to do the right thing! 

Not Romney. Romney said—and I quote—“let Detroit go bankrupt!” 

Barack Obama took the hard road and saved the auto industry! 

Mitt Romney says the green economy is an illusion. He actually said those jobs—your jobs!—are fake. Obama knows that what you do is very real. Barack Obama has been fighting for green jobs since day one. 

The last thing America needs is another self-serving outsourcer like Mitt Romney who talks out of both sides of his mouth and sacrifices the good of the nation for the wealth of a few. He even outsources his bank accounts! Can you believe that a candidate for president of the United States has secret bank accounts in the Cayman Islands and Swiss banks? That’s not the code we live by. That’s not how we built America. Those aren’t our values! 

My friends, this political season we have every reason to go the extra mile. We’re reaching past the walls of our union halls, and we’re building a grassroots movement like America hasn’t seen in generations. 

We’re building an independent political program that can run electoral politics and then turn on a dime to call our leaders to task, in case they suddenly develop that old case of amnesia! We’ll be there to remind them what they promised and who they promised to work for! 

And all this time, our leaders like you are keeping a focus on organizing, on cards signed and elections won, because we know that there is no better stepping stone to the middle class than a union contract! 

Brothers and sisters, we’re building an honest-to-God working class movement. We’re building power for working families, and we’re building to last. 

We’re going to grow the American middle class. And we’ll do it with common-sense laws. We’re fighting to stop rewarding companies that send jobs overseas and start rewarding companies that bring good jobs home! It may not be the easy thing to do, but it’s the right thing to do. And we’re going to keep fighting for what’s right! 

We’re going to fight for good laws that help people insulate their homes, like HR 2866 and SB 1526, two bills that give tax credits to consumers who want to go green. These bills are good ideas. They create good jobs. It’s time to make them law!

We have a vision. We have a plan. And we’re going to make it real because that’s our responsibility—making life better for all working families. That’s how we’ll rebuild the American Dream, and we’re ready to do the hard work that our vision requires. 

Just like your members who served our country and earn a good living today, all of us want the chance to work hard for a decent life, for health care and the hope of a secure retirement and to give a better life to our kids. 

That’s our dream. That’s the American Dream. 

We’ll stand together, because we’re stronger together. There is nothing stronger than the American labor movement. United, we cannot and will not be turned aside. 

We’ll work for it, sisters and brothers.  We’ll stand for it.  Together.  Each of us.  To bring out the best in America.  To bring out the best in ourselves, and each other. 

Because, my friends, we know the meaning of work. We know the necessity of moving America forward – we live it! We’ve come too far to be turned back now. We won’t back down. We won’t back up. And we will not be denied! 

Thank you.  God bless you, God bless the work you do, and all the work you will do!

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