Sean McGarvey, Secretary-Treasurer Building and Construction Trades Department AFL-CIO, was the keynote speaker last night at the annual Cass County Democrats’ “Back to Blue” dinner in Belton, Missouri.
…When they asked me to come out and speak to the Cass County Democrats I asked, “Who were the Cass County Democrats?” [laughter] And they said, “They’re the Democrats that win elections,” so anytime I get to come and spend time with Democrats that win elections I enjoy it.
And as Teresa [Hensley, Cass County Prosecutor] said, I’m very involved in government affairs, political affairs, and legislative affairs both with the Painters and with the Building and Construction Trades Department. And have been workin’ in the field nationally for about fifteen years. If you go back to, do the math backwards fifteen years ago was 1994. And all of us in this room can remember 1994 wasn’t a very good year for Democrats. And it began a very very tough time for the labor movement.
And it isn’t often, or in my mind it isn’t often enough that the Democratic Party, whether a county, a state, or nationally, recognizes the contributions of the labor movement, in particular for me, the building trades. So, for you to make this a labor night for Cass County Democrats is a big deal to me. And that’s why it’s a sincere pleasure to be here. Because as George Meany said many years ago, “We have a lot to do with the Democratic Party, but we don’t run the Democratic Party. And they don’t run us.” But the fact of the matter is, that the Democratic Party and the labor movement are linked at the hip. Our values are the same. We believe in the same things. We represent the same people. And we try to achieve the same goals. And it is not always easy.
And you’ve fought long and hard in this state. And had just a tremendous victory last November with your new governor, new attorney general, and all your other [garbled] offices that you picked up. But I can tell you from first hand experience that I know the work that’s involved. I’ve had the opportunity over the years to travel all over the country and work in a lot of states. Battleground states, non-battleground states, big cities, small towns, counties. And I understand that organization and commitment is what gets it done. That’s how you win elections. And it’s evident from the work we all did last year. And not just last year, but going back to 2000, that taste of bitter defeat that night. I know where I was and I know how I felt. How much time I put in and how much traveling I did and how angry my wife was a lot of the time. [laughter] But also how important she knew it was for us and our children and everybody’s children to win that one. And we didn’t, or maybe we did…
…But we kept at it. And I will tell you, over the last ten years, the labor movement has spent over a billion dollars and millions of man days of work working with the national Democratic Party, state Democratic parties, county Democratic parties to help fund and get Democrats elected. We knock on doors. We do phone banks. We do lit drops. We do voter registration drives. There’s never a time in any county or any state in this country when the Democratic Party calls, and usually they don’t have to call ’cause the labor movement’s already there, but when they call, the labor movement shows up. They show up with the bodies. They show up with committed activists. They show up with their money.
And a billion dollars is a lot of money. And I want to tell you how a billion dollars is raised. A billion dollars is raised a penny and two cents an hour. Not like Wal-mart where you can write a ten million dollar check. It’s individual members that these people out here represent that contribute a penny and two cents and three cents an hour out of their paychecks. To put into a PAC fund so that they can support candidates who they think are gonna support them. And from what I know of this county, that’s the kind of Democrats we have in this county. And that’s why they’re willing to put their pennies together, which make dollars, which make hundreds of dollars, and thousands of dollars, because we all know that money is the mother’s milk of politics.
So, a lot of work was done over a long period of time, culminating in last November. And what a difference a year makes. The effort from the Democratic Party, the labor movement, in particular the building trades, especially here in Missouri which was one of six targeted states for the national Building Trades Department, ’cause we understood how important Missouri was, both in you governor’s race and electorally in the presidential race. The work, the time, and the effort that was put in by the leadership of the building trades, these local union leaders in this room and across this state working with the Democratic Party – it was an effort that we’re all proud of. And we ultimately didn’t get the one thing that we all wanted, and that was to turn the state on the presidential level, from red to blue. But you made ’em wait a month after Election Day before they could finally call it. [applause]
So you got your governor who’s good for working people, the people that we all represent. You’ve got your attorney general and we;ve got a president of the United States. And I want people to understand why the labor movement is so excited about Barack Obama. This is the first time in fifty years that we have a president of the United States who comes from a labor state, a labor dense area, understands the labor movement, in particular understands the building trades, spends time and has spent time in our training centers and our union halls, and really gets the value of the labor movement in helping to grow and maintain the middle class. We haven’t had that [applause] in fifty years. We didn’t have that with Bill Clinton, God bless him, Arkansas is not a very strong union state. We didn’t have it with Jimmy Carter, God bless him, Georgia’s not a very union friendly state. We didn’t have it with LBJ. We all know about Texas. [laughter] Especially here in Missouri. [voice: “Oh, yes.”] It wasn’t except for JFK, who was from Boston, in 1960, the last time we had a president who understood the value of the labor movement and the value of how you move people and maintain people in the middle class is through organization, labor unions, and collective bargaining. And now we have a president that understands that again. And that’s why we’re so excited. Not only for Barack Obama, but Joe Biden. Joe Biden goes back with the building trades thirty-five years. Joe Biden is as comfortable in a union hall, in a union training center, as any politician I’ve ever met in my life. Joe Biden gets us. Joe Biden understands us. Joe Biden rode the train with the conductors for thirty-five years. You’ve seen who he had at the inaugural with him. He had the working folks who helped get him back and forth to his family from Washington. These are the kind of people we have in the White House. It’s been a long, long time. And it’s been a tough, tough fight. And you’ve all done your part. And good things are about to happen.
But this president, and this labor movement, and this state and this county are up against some tough times right now. I don’t have to tell you how difficult the economy is. But this president has put together a cabinet of people who get us, who understand us. Hillary Clinton at State. People say, “Why would the labor movement care about the Secretary of State position?” Well, in the global economy that we live in we’ve got corporations that fly no flag, that come from all over the globe, that come into this country, build facilities and break down ou
r labor standards. Don’t respect our labor law. And abuse our workers. Now we have a Secretary of State who will have key labor people on her staff so that as she travels the world and meets with these folks they understand that there’s a different set of rules when you’re gonna come to the United States and do business. It’s give and take. We want ’em to come here, we want ’em to build their facilities, we want ’em hire our people, But we want ’em to be respected and paid the proper wages and benefits when they do.
Ray LaHood. Secretary of Transportation. One of two Republicans in President Obama’s cabinet. Ray LaHood is a building trades Republican. Ray LaHood supported the building trades in Davis-Bacon in every vote he ever took in Congress for fourteen years that he was there. Ray LaHood understands the building trades. Ray LaHood is a moderate Republican. Ray LaHood is somebody that we worked with over the years. Ray LaHood’s somebody that we’re working with right now.
Secretary [Hilda] Solis. At the Department of Labor. We haven’t had a Labor Secretary who actually looked out after the people that that department was supposed to do for more than eight years. I can tell you that I knew the former Labor Secretary and I like her personally. But her job was not to look after the working people of this country. Her job was to look after the corporate interests in the Labor Department in this country. And we’ve got a person in Secretary Solis at the Labor Department who again, the daughter of union members, from humble beginnings in Los Angeles, who understands the value of the labor movement to helping to achieve middle class status for millions of workers who’d never had the opportunity before in this country. And she will be our champion. And like she likes to say, when I went to her swearing in, “There’s a new sheriff in town and she’s wearing high heels.” That’s her. [laughter] [applause]
And even Tom Vilsack, your neighboring former governor from Iowa. You know, again, a guy from humble beginnings who understands the value of the labor movement, who worked his way through school and through law school, became governor. And will be there to help us. These are the kinds of people that our president has surrounded himself with.
It was more than just slogans on a campaign trail when he talked about what he wanted to do for this country. And it’s not gonna be easy. But with the team he’s assembled we’ve got the opportunity.
But we’ve got an economy that’s in absolute shambles. I don’t have to tell you. My brothers from the Kansas City building trades are actually fortunate right now. The vast majority of them. You have a lot of major projects, you have good employment, your contractors are relatively busy. But also know that when those major projects start to wind down we’re gonna have a lot of building trades brothers and sisters out of work. Because there’s no work on the horizon, there’s no work in the pipeline. With the credit markets frozen up, in the building trades, we have thirty and thirty-five per cent unemployment in many regions of this country, with no prospects, with no work on the horizon. The job of this president, to get this economy straightened out, is huge.
But he started out with a stimulus package that not one Republican member in the House of Representatives supported. And understand what was in that stimulus package, especially for my brothers and sisters in the building trades in this room. It was two hundred billion dollars in construction money in that package. There was COBRA benefits to extend health benefits for people who are running out of health benefits. There was unemployment extension in that to help people that are running out of unemployment. And there were tax cuts for the middle class. Almost six hundred billion dollars of that bill was for the people that we represent. And not one Republican, because of ideology, could support one family that was runnin’ out of unemployment, runnin’ out of health benefits, and wouldn’t give them the opportunity, through federal spending on construction, to go to work.
I can tell you that the building trades leadership will not forget that not one Republican in the House of Representatives voted for that stimulus package.
And in a break with tradition at the Building Trades Department, because we’ve had great relationships with moderate Republicans like ray LaHood over the years, at our annual legislative conference this year not one Republican member of the House of Representatives has been invited to speak. That’s the first time in the history of our conference [aplause] that we won’t have a Republican. [cheers] [voice: “Yeah!”]
The president’s laid out a big agenda that’s important to everybody in this room. We’ve got huge health care issues that he’s gonna have to tackle. And committees in the House and Senate have started. We have huge pension issues. Anybody in this room that has a 401K understands what that market meltdown meant to you personally. In the unionized construction industry we have defined benefit pension plans that have taken a terrific hit. And this president is committed to find a way, legislatively, to help us rebound from that hit. There’s huge climate change and energy bills coming that are gonna generate a tremendous amount of jobs for us.
And most importantly, in the short term for us, is the Employee Free Choice Act. Now I’ve taken some shots at republicans up here. And I’m gonna say it a lot nicer, but you need to encourage some of our Democrats in the State of Missouri to get up, stand up, get up front, and lead the parade in the Employee Free Choice Act. [applause]
In order to achieve the goals that we all believe in and the president has laid out for us, for people to have the opportunity to achieve their dreams and make it to the middle class, and sustain a middle class lifestyle, raise a family, have health care, have retirement security, have the ability to send their children to college if they choose to go there, they have to have the opportunity without coercion or intimidation to join a labor union if that is their desire. [applause] [cheers]
The Employee Free Choice Act doesn’t take away secret ballots [voice: “Right!”] Doesn’t intimidate anybody. [voice: “Right!”] Stewart Acuff, who is a friend of Teresa [Hensley] and her husband [Kenny Hensley], husband’s college buddy, is the organizing director for the AFL-CIO. And when you hear people talk about union thugs intimidating people in organizing drives in order to get them to sign cards [voice: “Liars!”] [laughter] It’s worse than that. [laughter] They have no idea how an organizing drive works. Organizers don’t all of a sudden arrive at a door and decide to organize a company. It’s the employees of that company that decide that they’re not likin’ the way things are goin’ and they want to have an opportunity to come together and collectively bargain instead of collectively beg with their boss. And they reach out, then activists inside that company reach out for the union and ask for assistance. And that’s what we lend. Technical assistance. Money and expertise. There’s no intimidation.
And as Stewart said on Fox News, I told Teresa, and don’t quote me on the exact number, but since 1937 there have been a hundred and thirty cases of documented intimidation by an organizer in a union drive having to do with having workers sign up for the union. In seventy some years. Last year there were thirty thousand cases of employer intimidation in organizing drives. [applause] In one year. [applause]
So it’s time. It’s time now. We need all the Cass County Democrats. We need all the Democrats in this state and in every state to push our elected leadership in the United States Senate to stand up and lead, We didn’t send them there to work on this agenda worrying about the next election. Now is the time.
Do you realize that the heroes that are in vogue in our country, and rightfully so, over the last couple months, Captain
Sullenberger and the crew of U.S. Air that landed that plane on the Hudson River and saved all those people, [applause] he’s a union airline pilot? And them flight attendants were all unionized. And the folks last week on the Alabama, they wouldn’t give up their ship to them pirates. Union members. Seafarers. [applause] This is what the Wal-marts of the world are afraid of?
The time is now. We need the support of the Cass County Democrats, and every Democrat in this state. We need the support of federal legislators, both in the House and the Senate. We need to help the president convince Democrats who have to make tough votes. And I understand how tough these votes are. These are tough votes for these folks. But they need to know that we have their back. And they need to know when they make these votes that we’ll double our efforts when their reelection comes and take on their enemies and make sure they have the money, the manpower, and support of the masses of Democrats in this state and every state in the country to get them reelected because it’s time to do the right thing. It’s time to move the middle class forward. It’s time to build the labor movement. And it’s time to build the Democratic Party.
Thank you for having me here. Appreciate your time and attention. [applause]