Connect with us


AFL-CIO President Trumka: ‘We can build shared prosperity’

President, Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO

LOS ANGELES (Sept. 10, 2013) — AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka’s keynote speech Monday laid out the challenges and opportunities that we have to rebuild a working class movement by building labor and community partner density.


Some members of the Washington state delegation pose with President Richard Trumka at the 2013 AFL-CIO Convention. (Click to enlarge)

“The largest employers in the country, employers like Walmart and McDonalds, thrive by keeping their workers poor and Wall Street supports them,” Trumka said.

The American economy is upside down and the only way to change it is to build a working class movement that values work over wealth and greed. Trumka pointed out that the economy is not like the weather. We can change the economy. We, workers, create the wealth everyday.

“Together,” he said, “we can build shared prosperity.”

But to paraphrase, he said there can be no shared prosperity when 11 million immigrant workers live in the shadows; when 20 million workers remain unemployed; when seniors are terrified by potential cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid; when millions of young black men are incarcerated and then given up for lost; when affordable health care is not provided for all; and when workers are sidelined on the bench when our infrastructure is falling down.

Resolutions 16 and 5 addressed building this working class movement. Resolution 16 spoke to building enduring labor community partnerships through developing shared visions of our workplaces and communities based on a shared economic analysis and the development of joint projects and campaigns that engage our communities of color and youth.

Resolution 5 further operationalized Resolution 16 by supporting the work of Working America to organizing workers into new forms of representation and advocacy and to support and expand our partnerships with Worker Centers.

johnson-AFLCIO-convI was asked to speak on Resolution 5 and was able to outline our desire to create a Working America chapter in Washington State in 2014 and to talk about our work with our Worker Center, Casa Latina. This allowed me to talk about the work we have done together to pass ordinances that criminalize wage theft and misclassification of workers in Seattle and King County; our work to create a statewide law addressing wage theft; our work on Comprehensive Immigration Reform which helped turn Congressman Reichert to a yes on CIR; our work on the “Caring Across Generations” initiative which would allow our disabled and elderly to get the  quality care they need in their homes with dignity by well-trained and well-paid union home care workers; and the work we are doing to organize domestic workers and the fight for full and equal rights for them under the law.

Both resolutions passed.

Next up were Resolutions 1 and 2. Resolution 1 addressed labor law reform including issues that were left out of the Employee Free Choice Act like covering “so-called” independent contractors, all government workers and all agricultural workers.

Resolution 2 addressed assisting all workers to organize. This resolution requires all national unions to submit on a confidential basis annual organizing plans which will help us as a labor movement to prioritize organizing the unorganized. In addition state federations and central labor councils will work with affiliates to put together policy plans and a political campaign structure that supports organizing, and to hold public officials accountable for their positions on workers’ ability to organize.

And it couldn’t have been planned any better, as we were discussing these organizing proposals we learned that the Indiana Supreme Court had struck down Indiana’s recent “right-to-work” legislation!

Four other organizing resolutions were discussed and passed:

Resolution 26: Long term commitment and investment in an organizing strategy for the South.

Resolution 38: Strategy to pressure Reynolds American Inc to establish a process with the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) to guarantee freedom of association and worker representation for tobacco farm workers.

Resolution 39: Fight against efforts to privatize the Tennessee Valley Authority.

Resolution 41: Support the Employer-Employee Cooperation Act which guarantees the basic human right of collective bargaining to public safety employees.

There was a moving tribute for AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Arlene Holt Baker, who is retiring after 40 years of union service. Some of you may remember that Arlene walked Labor Neighbor with us in 2008 out of the IAM 751 hall.

Finally after several constitutional amendments, I am proud to say that Resolution 17, which condemned the mass incarceration of youth of color the private prison for profit system, passed unanimously.

President Trumka was eloquent and forceful in his criticism of a criminal justice system that punishes people for being black and brown.

“Mass incarceration of youth of color is a betrayal of the American Promise,” Trumka said. He talked about how we can’t write young people off, and particularly black males, because we as a society have failed them, because they have dropped out of school, because there are no jobs for them, because they may have addiction problems. He suggests that the real solution is to replace the school to prison pipeline with a school to jobs pipeline.

The resolution calls for the public operation of our criminal justice system, adequate staffing, ULL funding of training programs for those reentering society, and the restoration of full citizenship rights for those convicted of nonviolent offenses once they have completed their sentences, including the right to vote, the right to serve on a jury, and full access to government services such as financial aid for education, housing and employment assistance.

Jeff Johnson is President of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO, the state’s largest union organization, representing approximately 400,000 rank-and-file union members.

CHECK OUT THE UNION DIFFERENCE in Washington: higher wages, affordable health and dental care, job and retirement security.

FIND OUT HOW TO JOIN TOGETHER with your co-workers to negotiate for better wages, benefits, and a voice at work. Or go ahead and contact a union organizer today!