Feb 5, 2020
Transcript: Nancy Pelosi Holds Press Conference After State of the Union Address
The day after the State of the Union Address and she ripped up Trump’s speech, Nancy Pelosi held a news conference to promote a bill that would give union members additional support to organize. The press conference was also held shortly before the Senate acquitted President Trump. Read the full transcript of her press conference right here.
Nancy Pelosi: (00:07)
Are we set? Good afternoon everyone. It is a great honor to be here today wearing this beautiful acknowledgement pass the PRO Act AFL-CIO. In the Congress of the United States, the house Democratic caucus is beautifully diverse. 60% of our caucuses are people of color, women, LGBTQ, but we had diversity geographically, generationally, and across the country in every possible way. We have diversity… And diversity of opinion. People thank me for being a unifier of our caucus, but that isn’t true. What unifies our caucus are our values and the overriding value that supersedes any differences we may have is our commitment to America’s working families.
Nancy Pelosi: (01:16)
That is why I am so proud to stand here. That’s why I’m so proud to stand here with Richard Trumka, the president of AFL- CIO. Chris Shelton, president of Communication Workers of America. Jennifer Dorning, president for Department of Professional Employees of the AFL-CIO. John Samuelsen, president Transport Workers Union. Jim Slevin, president Utility Workers Union of America. Tim Driscoll, president International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craft Workers. And representatives of many other unions who are here with us today. I’m proud to join the chair of the Education and Labor Committee chairman Bobby Scott and salute him for his leadership. He’s a champion of workers [inaudible 00:02:09]. Some members of his committee or with us Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, who’s chair of the subcommittee that produced the PRO Act. Donald Sussman of New Jersey. Pramila Jayapal of… What’d I say?
Speaker 1: (02:27)
Nancy Pelosi: (02:31)
Donald Norcross of New Jersey, a real champion, a former member of a union himself and again a champion for America’s working families. Probably proud to be going to New Jersey to be with him shortly. Pramila Jayapal Of Washington State. And representative Andy Levin, one of our freshmen members, but effective from the start for America’s workers. Again, this is about stemming the assault that the Republicans are making on the rights of working men and women in our country. Many of you know that we all believe that the middle class is the backbone of our democracy. You all know also that the middle class has a union label on it. So I thank our friends in labor for their patriotism and I am proud to be able to be here with them with this legislation.
Nancy Pelosi: (03:24)
What it does is holds companies that violate workers’ rights, accountable, strengthens worker sacred collective bargaining rights, and protects access to fair union elections. But you’ll hear more about that from our members of Congress. I also want to acknowledge that we have a VIP here. She’s our special guest of honor, Jennifer Womack and she is a person who will tell us of her experience. That is what is important about legislation, how it affects America’s workers. And with that I’m very pleased to yield to the distinguished chair of the Education and Labor Committee chairman Bobby Scott. Thank you for your leadership.
Bobby Scott: (04:02)
Thank you Madam speaker and thank you for your tremendous leadership of the house. Thank you everyone for being with us today. Protecting the right to organize, act, confronts a serious and urgent challenge and that is that American economy is not working for most American workers. While corporate profits are at record high. Many workers and their families are struggling to keep pace with rising costs of housing, healthcare, education, and other basic essentials.
Bobby Scott: (04:39)
Throughout their history, America’s labor unions have ensured that workers receive a fair share of the profits they produce. When workers have the power to stand together to form a union, they have higher pay, better benefits, safer work conditions. Even the children of union members lead better lives and pay gaps disappear in union contracts. With those working in similar jobs, men and women, blacks and whites all get equal pay for equal work.
Bobby Scott: (05:11)
Even non-union members benefit because when the union wages go up, to compete, other wages have to go up. But after decades of anti-labor attacks, membership is at it’s lower level. Since just after the national Labor Relations Act was enacted in 1935 and it is not a coincidence that as union membership decreases, income inequality increases. The PRO Act is a comprehensive proposal that makes necessary reforms to US labor law. This legislation will help strengthen workers’ power to stand together, to negotiate with their employers, hold companies accountable for violating employees rights.
Bobby Scott: (05:54)
It helps guarantee workers can decide for themselves whether to form a union without interference and ensures that all workers have the protections and rights they need to do survive in today’s economy. The PRO Act is the most significant upgrade in US labor laws in 80 years and is a major step towards creating an economy where everyone can succeed. I’m grateful for the workers and advocates across the country who have helped advance the legislation. It is now my pleasure to introduce the president of the AFL-CIO Richard Trumka.
Richard Trumka: (06:36)
Good afternoon. Thank you speaker Pelosi for your leadership, friendship, and guidance. Chairman Scott, for all that you do. The members of the house that are here with us. All my brothers and sisters that have showed up today and especially one special person and that’s a Jennifer Womack. Jennifer, I want to thank you for your courage in all of this. How many of you saw the Verizon’s commercial on Superbowl Sunday? It captured the duty, the responsibility, and the humanity of America’s first responders who risked their lives for our safety.
Richard Trumka: (07:20)
While it was a nice reminder about the importance of our connection to each other, it really didn’t tell the whole story. When Jennifer and her coworkers tried to form one of the most personal and powerful bonds possible and that’s a union as members of the Communication Workers of America, Verizon said, “No.” You see, 5G might be able to do a lot of exciting things, but it cannot fix our broken and outdated labor laws at Verizon and elsewhere in more than 40% of all union organizing drives, employers simply break the law. They lie, they coerce, in some cases they fire union supporters.
Richard Trumka: (08:15)
Workers are forced to attend mandatory meetings with one item on the agenda and that’s to make people afraid to exercise our right to form a union. These messages of fear and intimidation are coming from the very people who control our paychecks, who control how much time we can spend with our family, and control whether we will have a job in six months or a year down the road. Now, that’s how you end up with an economy where more than 60 million people say they would vote to join a union today, but only one in 10 actually have one.
Richard Trumka: (09:05)
Workers went in. And is any wonder why? Simply put workers in unions bargain for higher wages are much more likely to have healthcare and pensions. The union advantage is even greater for people of color. Unionized workers have a real say in a critical workplace issues, like time off to care for a loved one, to the development of technology, and protection from discrimination. Now, the national labor relations act passed in 1935 was a beacon of the new deal. It ushered in a new era where workers organizing to win could win for equality, to get our share of the American dream. That wave of worker voice changed the direction of America. When workers started getting unions, America changed and we built the greatest middle-class that the world has ever seen.
Richard Trumka: (10:22)
But the NLRA has been weakened continuously in the 85 years since its inception. An entire union busting industry spending billions of dollars each year now works nonstop to block workers from exercising the freedom that the law is supposed to protect. Now is the time. In fact, it’s way pastime to protect the right to organize for workers in the 21st century. The PRO Act is how we do it, and it’s not an exaggeration to say that this is the most significant piece of legislation that will come before the house of representatives this year.
Richard Trumka: (11:08)
It protects the right to strike. It trumps the right to work sham. It ensures a process for reaching a first contract, once a union is recognized. It provides substantial relief for workers whose rights have been violated and creates a true deterrent. So employers think twice about violating the law. It also removes the employers standing in representation cases. Because the choice to form a union must belong to Jennifer and her coworkers and not Verizon and its executives.
Richard Trumka: (11:47)
So we call upon the house to pass the PRO Act. We call on all members of Congress, Republican and Democrat, to support the PRO Act. We call in the Senate to follow the houses suit and pass the PRO Act. And then we call on president Trump to sign that bill in the law. Those who would oppose, delay, or derail this legislation. Do not ask us… Do not ask the labor movement for a dollar or a door knock. We won’t be coming. Stand with us today and we’ll stand with you tomorrow because Jennifer and her coworkers deserve nothing less. In fact, the Americans workers deserve nothing less. Thank you. Now I have the…
Richard Trumka: (13:03)
And now I have the distinct pleasure and honor, and that’s not just a prelude to an introduction, I really mean it. Jennifer Womack, she works for Verizon wireless in Irving, Texas, and she knows how inadequate our current labor laws are. She has the courage to stand up and help, not only herself, but every other worker that comes in touch with her. Jennifer, it’s an honor to have you here.
Jennifer Womack: (13:46)
Good afternoon. My name is Jennifer Womack. I’ve worked at Verizon Wireless call center in Irving, Texas for the last three years. I’m glad that my job allows me to provide important services for our customers, but I’ve also noticed a number of problems in our work environment. In fact, when I first started, many of my coworkers told me that they were having trouble getting paid while out on medical leave.
Jennifer Womack: (14:15)
I could not figure out why this would be a problem, but then I had to miss work while having surgery to remove my gallbladder. My doctor sent in all the paperwork, yet I was stuck without pay while I was out recovering and my bills were mounting up. I remember being in pain, crying while I was laying up recovering, being on the phone with our benefits company time and time again, trying to figure out why my pay was not being approved.
Jennifer Womack: (14:45)
I was not ultimately paid for my medical leave until I returned to work and there are other problems too. For example, one manager at our call center, who was a white man, wore an Afro wig at work a number of times. This was offensive to me and a lot of my coworkers, most of whom were African American. The manager ultimately had to apologize, but he was never disciplined for this. In fact, he recently received a company award instead.
Jennifer Womack: (15:18)
So you can imagine why some of my coworkers than I wanted to form a union. But right after we started discussing joining together in a union, the company began to force us to attend mandatory union trainings in which they kept telling us why forming a union would hurt us. Sometimes a jump team calls workers they suspect may support organizing into those trainings at a moment’s notice.
Jennifer Womack: (15:44)
Those trainings terrified a lot of people. Eventually, I asked our CEO about this at Verizon shareholding meeting, but after that happened, my life got even worse. The company isolated me from my coworkers and some people I was close to were afraid to even talk to me. It’s also become harder for me personally to use my time off. I’m often required to use my emergency days before my personal days, even though this is not company policy.
Jennifer Womack: (16:15)
And managers have tried to humiliate me publicly in front of my coworkers, trying to make it seem like I’ve done something wrong. This retaliation makes it very difficult for workers to form a union if we want to. I believe that decision of whether to join together in a union should be up to me and other workers without having us to face threats and retaliation. That’s why I’m so glad that the House has taken up the Pro Act.
Jennifer Womack: (16:55)
This bill would put together, put power back in the hands of workers like me to make our own decisions about forming a union without risking our jobs. I’m especially glad that the bill would ban the sort of mandatory anti-union trainings that we faced. It’s also really important that the build imposes real penalties on companies that break the law since right now it seems like companies can get away with pretty much anything with just a slap on the wrist.
Jennifer Womack: (17:24)
I believe that everyone should be treated fairly and be able to have a voice on the job. The Pro Act is a great step to help achieve that. Thank you. Thank you. And up next, I want to introduce Representative Wilson.
Rep. Wilson: (17:54)
She’s a star, a champion. Let’s give her another round of applause. Madam speaker, our wonderful champion, thank you so much. Mr. Chairman, thank you. And to all of our friends of labor, I’m honored to stand with you today as we strengthen bargaining rights for American workers. As the chair of the health subcommittee, I led two long hearings and work consistently to support the Pro Act.
Rep. Wilson: (18:39)
This legislation is about restoring workers rights to organize and improving living and working conditions and every single community. As a proud member of the United Teachers of Dade in Miami, I experienced firsthand the benefits of collective bargaining and union membership. Because of the United Teachers of Dade’s hard fought negotiations and contract, I had good dental health, health insurance, adequate sick leave for me and I had health care for my children.
Rep. Wilson: (19:19)
As a widowed mother of three, these benefits made the world of difference. I can only imagine the difficulties my children and I would have faced had my employer worked to suppress my right to join a union. Anyone who has gotten a livable wage, equal pay and equal work in a safe working environment should thank unions and support the Pro Act. Anyone who grew up in a middle class home and is fighting to build a middle class home for their own children should thank unions and support the Pro Act.
Rep. Wilson: (20:03)
Strong unions play essential role in building a robust middle class in this country and they are essential to rebuilding it again. This important legislation help turns the tides on decades of wage stagnation, income inequality, and pervasive employer intimidation. We must stop that now. Workers deserve the right to negotiate for a fair share of the wealth, wealth that their hard labor and hard work helped to create.
Rep. Wilson: (20:40)
Simply put, if you claim to fight for and support the interests of working people, you must support the Pro Act. If you claim to be pro-union and support the American dream, you must support the Pro Act. Thank you and I yield that. It is my pleasure to bring to the podium my fellow committee member Representative Norcross.
Nancy Pelosi: (21:23)
Good afternoon. This is a unbelievable day. Take you back to 1977, I was a single dad trying to find my way in the world and I had to make a decision. I had three brothers that went to college, but I enjoyed working with my hands. So I went to the other four year school, it was called an apprenticeship. From that point up to today, I’ve been a member of the IBW, a proud member. So why is that important?
Nancy Pelosi: (21:56)
I went on to be a business agent in the union. And it’s true, not many people go from the construction site to Congress, but I was one of those. And why is that important? I can look around the room, the people that I’ve worked with over the years who understand what it’s like to get laid off, be out on disability, not have the dignity of working for a paycheck, but when they’re employed and they’re not being treated well, people understand who’s got the power.
Nancy Pelosi: (22:31)
The company that can pay lawyers to go fight their fight and delay, delay, delay or you who lives paycheck to paycheck and you know if you get fired, you’re putting your family at risk. See, that’s what I saw over my 30 years. I’ve been [inaudible 00:22:50] RBF, held elections, we tried to organize. And it’s about delay, delay, fire, intimidate. It’s not a level playing field and that’s what we’re talking about today.
Nancy Pelosi: (23:02)
It’s leveling the playing field to make sure those workers, if they want to, can join together. You heard Rich Trumka talk about 60 million people would join a union if it was fair, but it’s not. It’s not fair and today we start to change that. This has been so long in coming. For those of you who’ve been to the NRB and you see those lawyers with their big suits coming in … now, spending $1,000 bucks an hour for a company, it’s nothing.
Nancy Pelosi: (23:35)
That’s two weeks paycheck for the average person who just wants to get by by coming together. We need to pass this because there are 214 lawyers in Congress. There’s only one electrician, a union electrician who needs some help. Thank you very much. I’m available after hours for any side work. Please join with me in welcoming the co-chair of the progressive caucus, Ms. Jayapal.
Rep. Jayapal: (24:15)
Thank you so much, Madam speaker. Thank you for your fierce leadership. Chairman Scott, thank you for always being on the right side of workers. And to President Trumka, to Jennifer and to all the workers who have taken incredible risks in speaking up about injustice and inequity and the need to put power back into worker’s hands, thank you from the bottom of our hearts. I’m very proud to be a lead sponsor of the Pro Act, also to be the co-chair of the congressional progressive caucus.
Rep. Jayapal: (24:48)
And our members have been at the forefront of pushing this as the speaker knows, we bring it up every week and we have. And here we are at this great day. I am also proud to be from a state, Washington state, that has the third highest union density in the country. And let us be clear that that is linked to the fact that we were the first state in the country to link minimum wage to inflation. We have some of the best pro worker policies.
Rep. Jayapal: (25:16)
And it is thanks to workers and labor unions for pushing those policies forward. So you’ve heard some of what happens, I wanted to give you a few statistics. Just imagine that employers spend roughly $340 million dollars annually on union avoidance consultants. Just imagine that more than half of workers who vote to form a union do not have a collective bargaining agreement even one year later.
Rep. Jayapal: (25:54)
Imagine that employees can be permanently replaced for striking for a fair contract, and as Jennifer said, that employ-
Rep. Jayapal: (26:03)
…for a fair contract. And as Jennifer said, that employers face very, very few penalties. When you go to work, the ProAct says that you should not lose your ability to speak up. You should always be able to advocate for yourself, for your medical needs, for your family, and your colleagues when you see or experience injustice.
Rep. Jayapal: (26:23)
But we’re in a situation where years of anti-worker, anti-union policies have eroded those basic rights. And a symptom of that stark power imbalance between workers and employers is the unacceptable income inequality that we face across this country.
Rep. Jayapal: (26:42)
Just two days into 2020, the average CEO of a Fortune 500 Company earned more than the average employee will earn all year. Labor unions are that powerful tool to address this imbalance, to put power back into the hands of workers, and ultimately to write an economy that has gone way off track in terms of delivering justice for everyone. And unionized black and Latino workers will earn more than they do now when they’re non-unionized. Unionized female workers, understand, are paid 94% of a unionized males pay, far smaller than the overall gender wage gap. So, it’s time to rebalance our economy and it is going to be a truly great day in the United States House of Representatives when we pass the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, and we put power back into the hands of workers. Thank you so much.
Rep. Jayapal: (27:53)
And now let me turn it over to a great champion of labor, one of our great new members of Congress, Representative Andy Levin from the state of Michigan.
Richard Trumka: (28:06)
Thank you, Pramila. Madam Speaker, Chairman Scott, Chairwoman Wilson, it’s just an incredible honor to be standing here on this historic day. President Trump [inaudible 00:00:28:26], Jennifer, taking on. You didn’t think you’d have to maybe when you started. I didn’t know all your story. Going to the shareholder meeting, that takes guts. She’s taking on one of the biggest corporations in this country.
Richard Trumka: (28:34)
And all we’re saying is you shouldn’t have to do that. Why should your boss be involved in your decision about whether or not to form a union? 85 years, it’s been 85 years since the Wagner Act was passed. And this Congress hasn’t passed a paragraph of legislation that makes it easier for workers to form unions and bargain collectively. And we’ve passed some major legislation over President Truman’s veto during President Eisenhower’s time, that makes it harder for workers to form unions.
Richard Trumka: (29:12)
Right after world war II, a third of private sector workers had unions. When I started organizing nursing home workers with SEIU in 1983, 16.5% of private sector workers have unions. And last week the BLS announced just 6.2% of workers have the voice and power to come together and bargain a contract to get a better life for themselves and their kids. All we’re asking for is freedom, a free market for union representation. Let workers decide by themselves.
Richard Trumka: (29:50)
And for a union organizer nerd like me, this bill is so full of many different pieces that take care of the anti-union problems that have been created through judicial decisions, administrative actions, and legislation over the last 85 years. When we pass this law, it’s going to be a beautiful new day. And the American dream is going to be able to come back into sight of our working class people in this country.
Richard Trumka: (30:19)
Madam speaker, thank you so much. It’s such an honor to be here, the Speaker of the House of Representatives to close it off, Nancy Pelosi.
Nancy Pelosi: (30:34)
So here we are a day away from passing this historic important legislation. We all want to talk about a seat at the table. The most important table to us is America’s kitchen tables, where families come together to make their decisions about their families. And we don’t want them to have to struggle unnecessarily when there is an opportunity for them to do better.
Nancy Pelosi: (30:59)
And I want to thank the AFL-CIO and all in the labor movement for what they have done to make the future better for so many families in America. I particularly want to say that equal pay for equal work is a principle that we would love to have established in the Congress. We passed it in the House. We want it to be passed in the Senate for the whole country. The labor movement has been in the lead from Rosie the Riveter, even going all the way back even probably before then. So thank you for that.
Nancy Pelosi: (31:27)
And last night we heard that the low income people’s wages were going up and wasn’t that wonderful? Well it had nothing to do with a person who was talking about it. It had to do with raising the minimum wage as Housewoman Jayapal mentioned throughout the country. And that was under the leadership of the AFLCIO, the fight for 15, which we passed in the House, we hope to pass in the Senate, but it has been enacted into law in many, many States in our country, in our city of San Francisco as well. And that is because of the leadership of the AFL- CIO.
Nancy Pelosi: (32:01)
Last night I talked to a young woman, well she was young to me, and she told me and when we came into Congress the first time in the majority in 2007, in the first 100 hours, we passed an increase in the minimum wage. That was 2007. There hasn’t been an increase since then. So that meant that making, what, 7.25 an hour for all these years without the right to organize to do better, there hasn’t been a raise for her in 12 years, and having to be a mom and raise a family and the rest of that.
Nancy Pelosi: (32:43)
So with the leadership of the AFL-CIO, we’re doing so many things, including lifting up everyone with increasing the minimum wage. But as Chairman Scott mentioned, even if you don’t belong to a union, the lift the labor movement gives to all workers, lifts everyone up. So I thank you for that. This is so important to America. It’s so important to our economy. Nothing is more important to our economy than the education of our children and also to have purchasing power on the part of the middle class. That can only happen when workers get respected for the work that they do and receive the wages and salaries that they deserve. And so this ProAct is a vehicle in that direction.
Nancy Pelosi: (33:33)
It’s going to be a day of celebration. We’re very excited about it. And we hope to have a big, strong vote. And we invite Republicans to join us for that, for the American people, for the children. Thank you all very much.