2004 Conference Speakers
Remarks by Edward Wytkind
Executive Director, Transportation Trades Dept., AFL-CIO
May 5, 2004
It is a privilege to once again be invited to address your Annual Conference. I appreciate your inviting me back as you mobilize your collective interests.
Thank you for that kind introduction. And thank you for all you’ve done to make the labor movement stronger and more unified.
I want to welcome all of you to Washington. But sorry about the people in charge. They’re a bit rude, don’t particularly like unions and really don’t make you feel at home.
If you promise to come back next year, we’ll try to get you a different crowd running this town. And this crowd we’ve got now is being run by a man who just can’t stop himself. You see George W. Bush just can’t stop himself from running around this country, talking about how he is a war-time President. Seems you hear that each and every day.
Well you’re right, Mr. President, you are a war-time President. You are a President that from your first days in office has declared war on America’s workers!
It is a war that seeks to steam-roll workers and all that they have fought for and won. And it is a war that wants to silence all who dare to speak up and speak out.
Today I want to talk with you about this war, and what it means for NASHTU and your members and to workers all across this country. Talk about what I think we must do as a labor movement in 2004. And talk to you about why – in the face of what seems like day after day of darkness – I believe a brighter future is just around the corner.
My brothers and sisters, it’s been nothing short of war. This isn’t just rhetoric. Let me give you the facts.
Since January 2001:
Over 3 million Americans have lost their jobs – that’s over 3,300 people a day.
1 in 10 African-Americans are unemployed.
1 in 12 Latinos are out of work.
1 in 4 Americans can’t pay for their health care needs.
Since January 2001 we’ve had a President who has tried to cut over $1 billion out of job training. (Mr. President, as someone who will be unemployed later this year, you weren’t thinking ahead.)
This is a man whose own campaign telemarketing calls are made from India. And if you buy one of those $49.95 fleece pullovers from the Bush-Cheney campaign web site . . . it comes from Burma, a country that runs rough-shod over human rights and where workers make as little as seven cents an hour.
Each year since January 2001 the President has given the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans about $100,000 in tax cuts to get our economy going again . . . but yet 88 percent of all Americans have received only $100 or less.
He promised us 2.4 million jobs if we agreed to his tax cuts – guess that was some pretty fuzzy math, because we’ve since lost 3 million jobs.
He’s had some ideas the Reagan crowd couldn’t have even dreamed of . . . like taking away overtime for 8 million Americans (which, by the way, we kicked his butt on last night in the Senate, thanks to the unions of the AFL-CIO) . . . putting OSHA health and safety laws through the shredder, and even . . . and you’ll like this one . . . counting fast food jobs as manufacturing jobs as a way to literally “cook the books” to cover-up the hemorrhage of manufacturing jobs in this country.
And I don’t need to tell anyone from state DOTs about the Bush administration driving states into their worst condition since the Great Depression.
Nearly every state has had to increase taxes and fees to try to stop the bleeding caused by a lack of federal resources due to flawed Bush policies. Tuition at state colleges is up as much as 40 percent, this at a time when the Bush administration wants to cut Pell grants and other student aid.
In Florida, 80,000 children are now on waiting lists for health care. Texas (another part of the Bush empire), cut health insurance to nearly 160,000 children.
State DOTs have been pushed to the brink and beyond. Already reeling from a decade of dramatically increased contracting out, many state DOTs are now losing an additional 10 percent of their workers.
The message out of the White House on public employee unions has been crystal clear – when you stand up for the union, you are standing up against your own country . . . That being a union member is somehow giving aid and comfort to the enemy. George Bush made the new Department of Homeland Security 100% union-free, spinning the tall Texas tale that unions would hurt our country’s fight against terrorism.
And caught up in this war against workers and in these reckless Bush policies is TEA-21 reauthorization. The work we do, and the decisions Congress and the President make, will set the tone for the future of both transportation and job creation in this country.
I can’t talk about TEA-21 without first complimenting the tremendous work all of you in NASHTU have done to increase the awareness and understanding people in Washington have of your issues.
You have brought an outstanding level of energy and intellectual substance to these debates. You have helped Washington have a far greater understanding of the important work your members do. And you have shined a bright light into some dark corners, showing the politicians how government and corporations operate when they think nobody is looking.
Your work in TEA-21 shows how important it is to have a union voice. You see, the other side’s got it easy. Big business and trade groups have the luxury of wealth, literally. There is always someone out there telling their story, and always someone important is listening.
But for NASHTU and for all of us, if we don’t tell our story, nobody else will. And in times this difficult, we can’t be silent for a single day.
You have been working the halls of Congress, knocking on doors to make the case for a surface transportation bill that protects the public interest, that stops quick-buck artists from spreading their privatization wings at the expense of service and quality. And you have stepped up to make the case for jobs and for a boost to a national economy that is literally being strangled by Bush policies that are making the states fend for themselves.
The next TEA-21 bill has the potential to be just what the country needs, creating 47,000 jobs for every $1 billion it invests in transportation infrastructure. It is a chance to make transportation safer, less congested, and more efficient.
So if this bill is so good, why hasn’t the only serious jobs bill been signed into law yet?
Take a guess.
Those of you who said “George W. Bush” are right.
He says it costs too much. The extremists who fuel his campaign want him to veto the bill – they want him to look like the cautious guardian of the public’s money, even though the reality is he’s given billions away to folks who hardly need it.
Well, that’s a raw deal for the 88 percent of Americans who didn’t get much if any of the Bush $300 billion tax cut. They need a job. This bill will put millions to work and the President ought to stop playing politics with the lives and livelihoods of millions of workers.
To say we don’t have the money for a good TEA-21 bill is a bald-faced lie. The money’s there, Mr. President, you just want to use it for your No Millionaire Left Behind initiative.
I guess if all you ever do is take limos, and if you’ve never had to look for a job, maybe the traffic and high joblessness in this country doesn’t seem so bad.
In the fight to create transportation jobs, George W. Bush has been a no-show.
By the way, thank you NASHTU for waging such aggressive actions against contracting out.
Your fight against contracting out is part of a battle American workers are waging against outsourcing and off-shoring. It is estimated that 14 million white collar jobs will be sent overseas over the next decade, part of a downward spiral for workers’ wages and rights. And part of a downward spiral for what is left behind in communities here at home.
I recently read of an entire IT department in Seattle that was laid off, as their work was sent to India. And in a repulsive sign of the times we’re living in, to get your severance pay you had to stick around to train your replacements who had been flown in from India for the occasion.
You see, the problem is we ship good jobs overseas and then the replacement workers are paid a fraction of what Americans earn and work under lousy conditions. So in the end, workers get the shaft around the world in a global race to the bottom.
NASHTU’s shining a light on inappropriate contracting out comes at a time when $7 billion in Iraqi reconstruction grants have gone to 10 companies who in recent years have had to pay a combined $300 million to resolve allegations of bid rigging, fraud, delivery of faulty military parts, and environmental damage.
First-time visitors to Washington might think this kind of contracting out would be illegal. Well it used to be. One of the first acts of the Bush administration was to repeal Clinton-era rules that said that if you broke the law – including labor laws – you couldn’t get any more government work.
And with George W. Bush as its spiritual leader, the privatization movement seems to grow stronger by the day. It is an ideologically driven philosophy that says … if you draw a public sector paycheck you’re the problem.
So let’s talk for a minute about privatization. This White House loves it. It’s their own ideological crusade, their answer to all the world’s problems. Amtrak. Air Traffic Control. The work of state and local transportation departments. You name it, it’s for sale. Just waiting for Halliburton to come along and buy it.
I get asked a lot about privatization. People in Congress or in the press sometimes think that, no matter what the circumstances, the labor movement will always oppose privatization.
So it’s got me thinking lately . . . Maybe the other side has a point. Maybe it’s time we get rid of the deadwood that bogs down our government. Maybe it’s time to stop having the taxpayers foot the bill for stuff that just doesn’t work.
So I’ve decided today – in this address to the 2004 NASHTU Conference – to unveil transportation labor’s own Privatization Plan, to tell you exactly what we are in favor of privatizing.
And this is what we will privatize: George W. Bush!
When we privatize George W. Bush, when we get him off the government dole, it will be the beginning of a brand new day for workers in America.
We will have a fighting chance to return a sense of respect and dignity to government workers who simply go to work each day to make our nation work, not for the privileged, but for the working families in this country. Demonizing and vilifying workers in the public sector is no way to run this country – and the Bush Administration ought to be ashamed of themselves!
So, how are we going to restore our voices in government, give George W. Bush a one-way ticket back to Texas?
Martin Luther King once said, “our weapon is our vote.”
Our weapon is our vote – and there is no better time than 2004 to use it.
Union members make up about 13 percent of the country’s population. But in the 2000 election we made up 26 percent of the electorate. Workers of this country can – and will – pick our next president.
As the AFL-CIO and its unions prepare for the largest political education and mobilization in the history of the labor movement, we’ve learned a few things.
If you remember one thing that I say today, let it be this:
You – I mean you – have more influence over who wins this election than myself or anyone who stands at this podium during your conference.
Research shows overwhelmingly that in 2000 workers who were contacted by their local union voted for Al Gore nearly 10 percent more than those who had no contact from their union.
And union members who received multiple contacts from their union voted for Al Gore in big numbers.
Already the AFL-CIO and its unions are sending materials out to workers, telling them about the issues and the candidates in this Fall’s election.
The early returns are promising. One targeted group of swing voters showed a 14 point movement against the President after they received educational information from their union.
Another targeted group which received union materials coincidentally around the time Saddam Hussein was captured showed no bump in support for the President because of the capture of Saddam. In other words, if we want to slow down this air war of TV spots and taxpayer financed photo ops, we must arm workers with the facts, connect them to the politicians that care about workers’ issues and get them out to vote. The rest will take care of itself.
You are the ones who can win this election. You are the ones who can educate the people at work and in your communities. Tell them about the issues. Tell them about what is at stake. Tell them where the candidates stand.
After all you’ve been through, nobody is more qualified than public sector employees to explain why it makes a difference who sits in the White House.
Tell them that the choice between the present and the future is like night and day.
You’ve got to explain that we have reason for hope – reason to believe that John Kerry will end this war against workers and make America safer and more secure.
John Kerry is for your jobs and your rights. He has endorsed aggressive labor law reform that for the first time will permit a worker to choose a union without the threat of intimidation and firing.
And hear me, what John Kerry is proposing is unprecedented in modern presidential political history. He is calling for card-check and neutrality. What that means is that if workers want a union – and can demonstrate they want a union – they have a union.
John Kerry will stop unfair trade deals and tax policies that favor “Benedict Arnold” CEOs who keep shipping American jobs to the lowest bidder overseas.
John Kerry is leading a fundamental change in how this country makes trade deals. It is a change that will make sure any trade deal this country signs is fair for workers and gives them a level playing field. It will be a trade policy night and day from the Bush administration – it will be one that does NOT turn a blind eye when our trading partners keep breaking the rules to gain an unfair advantage.
John Kerry’s lifetime voting record on worker issues is 91 percent. He has a plan to create 10 million new jobs. He’ll put an end to the big tax breaks that actually lure big companies overseas. He’ll change our laws to encourage companies to create jobs here in the U.S.
He’ll support investments in new technology and new training and education for workers. He’ll provide tax relief for people who actually need it – the middle class – and help more Americans afford four years of college. And he is not for dismantling – through privatization and contracting out schemes – the public sector that for generations has supported the services Americans need and deserve.
But the election goes beyond the record of George W. Bush or the type of president John Kerry would be. It goes beyond NASHTU. It goes beyond TTD. And it goes beyond the AFL-CIO.
It goes to a fundamental question of whether generations of American progress, generations in which each generation left something behind to their kids and to their grand-kids that was a little bit better . . . whether these generations of progress are now a thing of the past.
It is about whether we want to move forward or slide backward.
So that’s why we must now take our case to every community in America. We must talk about this election on the job, off the job, in our communities. And don’t just talk about it – YELL about it.
Yes, yell about it. Don’t chat about it. Don’t have a private side bar about it. Yell about it!
And why must we yell? My brothers and sisters, if you think about all we’ve been through together over the last three years, you’ll realize talk isn’t enough. Just talking doesn’t even skim the surface about all we’ve been through.
How can you just talk about the war George Bush has declared on workers?
How can you just talk about the economic and social devastation that we’ve seen in cities all across this country?
How can we just talk when patriotic Americans like Senator Max Cleland – a veteran, a former United States Senator from Georgia who left his limbs on the battlefield – are attacked, maligned, dragged through the mud simply because his views about worker rights differed from those in power?
How can we just talk when the President questions the dedication and patriotism of government workers across this country?
The time for talking is over. It’s time to yell.
NASHTU . . . you can do this. You can do this because you are part of a great movement, a great movement that always rises to the occasion.
Let’s stand up, let’s yell, and let’s make the next seven months the last seven months of the Bush-Cheney administration.