Remarks by AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, International Union of Police Associations

Bonita Springs, Florida–(ENEWSPF)–September 28, 2012.

Thank you, Sam [Cabral], for inviting me to speak to your convention. I’m honored to be here. You’re a strong and important leader, Sam. I salute your vision and integrity. I’m honored to be here with you all.

I don’t know that there are many jobs that are more essential than jobs in the law enforcement field. You work hard to uphold the law and maintain order in your  communities — often without the support and resources you need – and often without thanks for your efforts. In fact, quite frankly, sometimes you get scapegoated for it.

Today, on behalf of the 12 million members of the AFL-CIO, I want to thank all the members of the International Union of Police Associations for the work you do every day.  Thank you for what you do, and for the values that guide you to protect and to serve.

Your members are tough—fair. Patriotic. And absolutely dedicated to public service. All of America should be recognizing and thanking you!

Sisters and brothers, as you hold your convention, our nation is caught up in a divisive political season in a pivotal election year. But that’s not what I’m here to talk about. I’m not as interested in what divides us as much as what unites us. We have one thing in common. We work. All of us — whether our name is on a bar on our chest, or over a door.

And the best way for us to get respect, and the training we need, and fair rewards for our work is by joining together in unions.  We’re learning that lesson all over  again from the NFL Refs!  Just ask the Packers.  Or the Patriots.  I have never seen such amateur refereeing in my life.  Because of what?  Corporate greed.  Let me tell you, training — and respect for us as professionals — make all the difference!

I know and you know better than anyone, that your members believe deeply in law and order. You believe in protecting the public. And your members do more than just believe. You take action as trained professionals to enforce law and order. You take action to protect the public. Every day. On every shift. We’re safer and more secure as individuals and as a nation because of the work of each and every one of your members, whether those members are on the beat or at a desk.

And I respect you for it. I thank you for it. And so do your communities.

And yet in this difficult and pivotal time in America, some people overlook the sacrifices you make and say public workers—like law enforcement officers, firefighters and teachers—are greedy for wanting a decent life, for wanting good health care and pensions.

These people want to take back, or diminish your pensions, your pay and your benefits, as if you’re part of the problem and not the solution.

But you and I know the truth. Not one of your members went into law enforcement to get rich. Not one of them. And when someone calls 9-1-1, nobody picks up  the line in the dispatch center and says, “You need help? What’s it worth to you?”

When the 9-1-1 phone rings, officers respond. No matter the personal danger. No matter the cost. You save lives. You protect property.

You walk into danger and live with chronic health risks.  You do it for pay that’s altogether too low, and at the end of the day, I think it’s fair that you have security in your retirement, and health care, so you can live out your days with dignity and some peace and quiet.

That’s not too much to ask after a lifetime of service. And as a taxpayer and as an American, I want to make sure that we do right by our law enforcement officers, today, tomorrow, and always.

Brothers and sisters, as a nation, we’re standing at a crossroads. We’ve got two paths ahead of us. We’re either going to tear our country apart and give it away by chunks to the wealthy few, or we’re going to make it work for the people who work. It really is an open question. Which way will our nation go? Which way will our unions go?

Now I want to be perfectly clear. At no point will I try to tell you what to do about your choices on political endorsements in the presidential race or any other race, local or national. I respect the decisions you make. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about whether as a nation we will draw upon our values, or if we will let ourselves be divided.

Will we stand back while the pay or benefits and even the basic rights of our brothers and sisters are under attack? Or will we reach out to each other? Will we rise up, shoulder-to-shoulder? Will we stand together?

We may know the answer we want, my friends, but getting there may be a different story. How will we re-unite every corner of our labor movement and other  people who work for a living?

You know, one thing I’ve learned in life is that when I’m trying to figure something out, when I’m trying to wade through hard questions and tough decisions, I kind of back up and return to the basics.

I’m a third-generation coal miner from a small town – Nemacolin, Pennsylvania. It’s a town like so many others. just one more place that helps make up this great and prosperous land. And – like you, I’m sure – I’m proud of my hometown, because, let me tell you, in that town I learned about respect and hard work. I learned about fairness.

My town had all kinds of people. I heard 13 different languages spoken there in Nemacolin when I grew up—but whether we agreed or disagreed, we looked each other in the eye.

And I’ll never forget the lessons I learned from my mom and dad, and from my friends and buddies down in the coal mines, about the importance of honesty and integrity and of looking out for each other. Of relying on each other. I learned about life. And I learned about unionism.

I learned that miners go underground every day because that’s our job. That’s what we do. That’s how we’re wired. It’s the same reason teachers grade papers late at night and buy the supplies their students need out of their own pockets. It’s why firefighters walk into the flames. When we have a job, we do it. 

Those are the values that we share, all of us. Our ethics are simple. We respect each other.  We serve when we’re needed. We do what needs to be done in the  best way we know how. Our word is our bond.  Period.

I learned that our shared values are our source of strength, that our values are the basis of our solidarity.

As a labor movement, we have to make sure we honor those values, and live by those values, every day. We have to be the best we can be.

And let me tell you, when it comes to solidarity, as a movement, we’re not where we need to be.

And that’s a problem.

When we don’t feel in our hearts, that our fates are connected, that your voice on the job strengthens my voice on the job, then all of us — all of us — are less  secure. I don’t mean that in a generic way. I mean that specifically. When we don’t have each other’s backs, our pay and health care and pensions are vulnerable. Our voice on the job, our unions themselves, are vulnerable. And that’s a problem.

It’s not your problem or my problem. It’s America’s problem. It’s the reason why wages nationally have been stagnant for decades. It’s why our economy refuses to gain the strength it needs. And it’s a problem for which each and every one of us shares responsibility.

It’s up to us to fix this. And we will.

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

All across the AFL-CIO we’re working on this same problem. And this is especially important when it comes to electoral politics. When I spoke to the Machinists union a few weeks ago, we talked about a hard subject, about how there are many good reasons to vote for President Obama, but only one truly terrible reason to vote against him, and that’s because he’s black. When I went to Massachusetts earlier this week, we talked about how we can’t afford to support one candidate because he drives a pickup and wears a Bruins jersey, if that candidate votes to kill our jobs and undermine American manufacturing.

Our goal, as unions and working people, must be to get to the point where we can talk to each other, frankly and honestly about the issues that threaten to push us apart from one another.

Now, I’m not here to tell you to be a Democrat or to vote for candidates because they have a D behind their name. We’re not in service of the Democratic Party, and we’re not in service of the Republican Party. Our job is not to build support for any candidate or any party – our job is to build strength for working people!

I will never, never use the resources of America’s working people to build power for anyone other than working people. And I wouldn’t expect you to, either. Not one dollar. Not for a second. 

We have a laser focus on building power for working people.

Yet while we are focused on building our movement, we still understand that politics matters — elections matter.

And so we’re looking at each candidate, talking to each candidate and making decisions on a case-by-case basis. We’re using a simple yardstick to measure every candidate. Will that person make life better or worse for working people in America?

And then – and this is important – we have to hold each and every one of those leaders accountable after they’re elected, whether we supported them or not. Because it’s not enough to campaign before the election – we have to be just as strong and focused afterward.

Brothers and sisters, I am going to ask you to continue to be involved in your communities and in politics, particularly at the local level. And if you’re not already, I encourage you to increase your involvement with your local central labor councils and your state federations of labor.

You see, if you haven’t been involved, you’ll find that when you do, you can move the issues that matter to you, like officer safety, staffing levels and pay, and when negotiations get sticky, you’ll have friends at your back.

There are many ways for our unions to get involved with our communities outside the labor movement, to build coalitions with allies and neighborhood  organizations. It’s smart unionism. And it works. You know that as well as I do.

And there couldn’t be a better time for you to step up your presence.

For the first time in a long time, millions of Americans have begun to stand together for the things they believe in. People are beginning to understand that we’re all connected. People are beginning to see that the revival of good jobs—about making things in America again—will strengthen all of us — public workers and private workers, business owners and service workers.

As I said, America stands at a crossroads. History will know this as a turning point.

History will show that we, that all of us together — law enforcement and firefighters, machinists and construction workers, teachers and nurses — brought our nation back from the brink and rebuilt our country with good jobs, so our cities and states and federal government can strengthen revenues, so we can provide good  services and rebuild our crumbling streets and roads, our railroads and bridges, our towns and communities.

History will show that we — all of us — rebuilt the American Dream. It’s the simple dream that each and every one of us, if we work hard, and play by the rules, can have a decent life with good health care, and a secure retirement, that we can raise a family if we want one, and give a better life to our kids.

Because, my friends, it’s time—it’s long past time—we take America back for the people who make it work—because we’re the ones who wake America up every single morning, and tuck her into bed at night. We’re the ones who build the bridges and airplanes. We patrol the streets and lay the pipe and drive the buses. We answer the call. We fix what’s broke. We do whatever it takes, no matter what the cost. And we will take it back!

Brothers and sisters, I won’t dance around this idea. The best long-term American economic stimulus is a union contract—that’s how we win a fair share of the wealth we create. Union contracts can and will set regional and national standards for good wages, good benefits and secure retirements! Union workers are secure workers and confident consumers, and confident consumers are what make the American economy grow!

But the only way we will gain the strength we need to build a new movement for the American Dream is with solidarity — real solidarity — the kind where your fight is my fight and your picket line is my picket line! An honest-to-God working class movement for a better America. An America with opportunity and built of  responsibility and hard work and jobs.

But to get it, we’ve got to work for it.

We have to stand for it.

We’ll fight for it.

And we’ll win for each other and for all working people!

We’ll bring out the best in our country – the best in ourselves. To build the future we know we can have–we must have–for each of us, for our children, for our grandchildren.

And we will never, ever give up, back up, or back down.

Because this is our country.

We built it. We defend it. We wake it up. We make it run. We put it to sleep. And it is time, it is long past time, for us to take it back for the working people of America!

Thank you. God bless you!