Remarks of AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka at NNU Washington DC Assembly
National Nurses United Assembly
Washington, District of Columbia
June 7, 2011
Thank you, Rose Ann DeMoro, for inviting me here today – there’s nowhere I’d rather be and there’s nobody I’d rather be standing beside.
And thank you, nurses! It’s great to see each and every one of you in Washington! I love the way nurses fight for patients, for quality care, for fairness and progressive values!
You’re standing tall all across our country, and you make the entire labor movement better for it! You make America better... every single day.
And let me tell you this, your nine points that together describe our shared values, truly illustrate your commitment to all the working men and women, all the children and all the seniors of our communities and our country.
Your commitment to a single-payer health care system is inspiring, and the idea of paying for it with a financial speculation tax is just.
And let me congratulate you on your tremendous organizing successes in Florida and Texas, and on winning your contract at Washington Hospital Center!
Your organizing and your actions, including your daylong strike right here in DC, are powerful statements for middle-class standards.
Back in early March, I went down to Washington Hospital Center – one of the most renowned hospitals in Washington -- and I rallied with the nurses there.
A few weeks earlier, I was told, only two nurses had been scheduled overnight to work in Labor and Delivery. Two nurses!
That night, each nurse carried a patient load of six women who were delivering babies. That meant that each nurse cared for 12 patients. Six moms and six newborns! That’s too many. Thank God there were no emergencies, and thank you for speaking up about it!
Why were only two nurses scheduled? Not for a lack of money, I can tell you that. And not for a lack of quality nurses.
No, two were scheduled because two is cheaper than three.
Without your voice, two nurses would have been scheduled in Labor and Delivery, until there was an emergency, until something went terribly wrong, until a tragedy occurred, and that is not OK.
Without your voice, the Wall Street ethic would have continued to run rampant at Washington Hospital Center – and at health care facilities all over America.
Your work’s not done there, but you’ve made your mark. It takes nurses who truly care about quality care to raise a stink about staffing decisions, so patients don’t have to suffer.
And it takes nurses who truly care about a fair shake for Main Street to raise a stink about the Wall Street agenda, so working Americans don’t have to suffer!
You won’t be quiet, will you? No. I know you won’t be silenced.
You know, it’s the same thing all over. Right here in Washington, politicians are fighting over how much to cut from our federal budget, but not because America’s broke. The fact is, our nation has never been richer!
This deficit hysteria is an excuse, nothing less, for politicians to pay back their Wall Street backers with more tax cuts.
Instead of downsizing, American needs jobs -- jobs with living wages.
Instead of demonizing teachers, we need to prepare our children for the future by making sure every single one of them has access to quality public education.
Instead of downgrading public pensions, we need to make sure all working people have solid retirement security.
Let me say it again: America is not broke.
But working people feel poor because our nation’s wealth has all gone to only a handful among us, and they and the Wall Street politicians would rather break promises to our parents and grandparents and deny our children a future than pay their fair share of taxes.
Still, a lot of people are saying, "I don't need government services. I made it on my own and you should, too." But I say to anybody who buys into that myth: We didn't build this country with a philosophy that says, "I got mine."
My father and grandfather didn’t get out of the mines alive by taking care only of themselves. We did it with each other, for each other. United.
Some of us may have climbed the ladder, but all of us built the ladder—we make it possible with our public education system, our local governments and our roads and highways.
In the labor movement, we're all about that ladder.
We built that ladder for our families and neighbors, and do you know what makes that ladder strong? It's the voice on the job and the security that comes from a union contract. That’s how we turn bad jobs into good jobs—that's how we build a ladder to the middle class.
That's what we are. That's what we do.
Together, we’re going to build up our working families, and return America to prosperity the only way it’s ever been done -- by working people standing shoulder-to-shoulder and fighting for what’s right -- and we won’t be quiet until we win!
And together with the AFL-CIO's construction and manufacturing workers, pilots and painters, plumbers and public employees, engineers and bakers and others, we will be heard.
Sisters and brothers, let’s use our voice to piece together the fabric of America’s common life, by holding our elected leaders accountable.
We’ll hold them to a simple standard: Are they helping or hurting working families?
And we’ll build up our labor movement—in the workplace and in political life.
We want an independent labor movement strong enough to return balance to our economy, fairness to our tax system, security to our families and moral and economic standing to our nation.
We can’t simply build the power of any political party or any candidate. For too long we’ve been left after the election holding a canceled check and asking someone to pay attention to us. No more! No more!
Our goal is not to help candidates or parties, our goal is to improve the lives of working families and strengthen our country, and that’s what we’re going to do.
When it comes to politics, we’re looking for real champions of working women and men.
And I have a message for some of our “friends.” It doesn't matter if candidates and parties are controlling the wrecking ball or simply standing aside—the outcome is the same either way.
If leaders aren't blocking the wrecking ball and advancing working families' interests, working people will not support them. This is where our focus will be—now, in 2012 and beyond.
We will uphold the dignity of work and restore respect for working people.
This year, teachers, nurses and firefighters have been vilified.
Decent jobs with economic security have been cast as more than America's workers deserve. Low-wage, part-time, temporary, no-benefit work is being sold as the "new normal" for our economy.
Well, that “new normal” is not good enough. And you’ve taken a stand against it, and so have working people all across America.
We've been given a moment, and it's our job to turn this moment into a movement.
It has to be a movement for jobs.
It has to be a movement big enough for every worker who wants to form a union to bargain for a better life.
It has to be a movement to fight against intimidation, and for an economy that honors the dignity of all workers and our fundamental freedoms every single day.
We'll work for it. We'll stand for it -- Together. To bring out the best in America. To bring out the best in ourselves, and each other.
To build the future we know we can have, we must have, for ourselves, for our children, for our grandchildren.
And we will never, ever back down.
It’s time to stand together against the worst of Wall Street, with the best of America.
Stand for those who want to work but who cannot find jobs, for the families fighting to keep their homes out of foreclosure, for the workers trying to keep jobs that are good enough to support families and send kids to college, for our veterans and young people, for health care workers, for private workers, for public workers, for all workers.
Thank you, and God bless you and the work you do.