On this week’s episode of Crooked Conversations, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka sat down in Missouri for a live recorded conversation with Let America Vote President Jason Kander. The pair discussed the importance of unions, the rise of collective action and the future of the labor movement.
See a few highlights below, and check out the full episode here.
Trumka: My son was about 4 years old at the time, and we were in the backyard. And he had one of those little motorized jeeps. He and his buddy were riding around in the back, and I was on the phone talking to somebody about the union, and he heard me say that. So he pulls up in the jeep and he said, “Dad, what’s a union?”
And I said to him—there was a little hill there—I said, “Both of you get out of the jeep.” I said, “Rich, push that jeep up the hill.” And he’d pushed it up a little bit, and he’d slide backward…and he finally gives up. And his buddy Chad was with him. And I said, “Chad, now you help him.” And the two grunt a little bit, but they get the jeep to the top of the hill.
And I said, “Son, that’s what a union is.” It allows people to come together to do things together that they can’t do individually. That’s a union.
On Young Workers:
Trumka: We organized 262,000 new members last year. And 75% of those members were under the age of 35. Young people are starting to get it more and more and more. They’re coming along and saying, “Look, this economy isn’t working for us.” So how do we change it? We change it by coming together with our fellow workers, getting the ability to bargain collectively, so we can get a fair share of the wealth that we produce.
On Running for Office:
Trumka: If you’re running for office out there, here’s my advice to you. Stick to kitchen table economics. What are you going to do to help people with their wages, with their health care, with their pension, with their school district, with their retirement?
On Training Workers:
Trumka: One of the best-kept secrets in the United States is that…the labor movement trains more people every year than anybody else other than the military.
Kander: And often times, they’re training folks who just came out of the military as well.
Trumka: We have a special program for that called Helmets to Hardhats. We bring people coming out of the military. We bring them into our apprenticeship program….They are the best skilled people out there. Our building trades people are second to none in the world. People from around the world come and ask us to train them.
On Collective Action:
Trumka: I’m more optimistic right now than I’ve been in a lot of years, because what we see is collective action is on the rise….People are starting to look for change, and they’ve decided—rightfully so—that the best way for them to get change is to join with their fellow workers and their neighbors and demand change.