Sherrod’s Dignity of Work Tour Kick-Off Speech

BRUNSWICK, OHIO – Thank you, Connie. You all know Connie’s story. She grew up in Ashtabula – a small town much like my home of Mansfield. Bob Dylan wrote a song about Connie’s hometown. He rhymed Ashtabula and Honolulu.

Connie’s father was a proud member of Utility Workers Local 270. Her mother was a nurse’s aide and hospice homecare worker. They wore their bodies out working long days so their children could go to college – all four did.

His union health insurance saved Connie’s life. As a teenager after an asthma attack, she spent a week at the Cleveland Clinic.

Connie still keeps her father’s lunch pail at her desk, as a reminder of how hard her parents worked to build a better life for her, her brother, and her sisters. For too many people today, that same hard work isn’t paying off.

That’s why we’re here today, on this cold, cold night.

We really appreciate those of you who were able to make it out in this weather. When you plan an event in Cleveland in January, you know you’re taking a risk that Mother Nature might have other plans.

We know many more of you wanted to be here in person, but couldn’t and we understand. Your safety comes first. So thank you for watching at home, online.

President Burga, thank you for all you do every single day to stand up for Ohio workers. You are helping reinvigorate the labor movement in Ohio, and I’m so proud to fight alongside you.

Thank you to The PWC Group & Supply Side USA, June-aid and Sufia, and everyone who works here for hosting us this evening. I was at the ribbon-cutting for this headquarters two-and-a-half years ago, and it’s exciting to see how you’ve grown and thrived in Northeast Ohio.

And most importantly, thank you Ohio.

Thank you for showing up at the polls last November, and showing the country that a strong progressive can win – and win decisively – in the heartland.

Too often, people act like our party has to choose between advocating for strong progressive values that excite our base, or talking to working class voters about their lives. For us it’s not either/or – it’s both.

Together, we’ve fought for workers’ rights and voting rights and civil rights, and women’s rights and LGBTQ rights. With your support, I voted against NAFTA and the misnamed Defense of Marriage Act and the Iraq War. I’ve stood up to Wall Street and the gun lobby. And you’ve stood with me.

And together, we’ve won re-election time and again in a state that went for Trump.

We fight for our progressive values. We fight for the dignity of work. It’s who we are. It’s how we govern. It’s how we won. And it’s how we’ll win in 2020.

I am so proud of all the work we’ve done together.

When I first ran for Congress, I promised to refuse Congressional health insurance and pay for my own until we passed affordable healthcare for everyone. For years and years, I paid my own insurance, until we passed Obamacare. And today, Connie and I are on the same exchange system available to all Americans.

But we still have more work to do. And every time the Affordable Care Act is under attack, you step up. You’ve called and written and marched and shared your stories. And the law still stands today because of your work.

In 2015, we made the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit permanent for working families, and gave millions of Americans a bridge to the middle class.

It took three years, a major effort from Nancy Pelosi in the House, and a veto threat from President Obama. But we were successful, and put hundreds of millions more dollars in the pockets of working families.

Together we beat back Senate Bill 5, and protected the rights of Ohio workers to organize and band together to fight for higher wages and better working conditions.

We led the fight last year to extend the Children’s Health Insurance Program, extending coverage for a decade for more than eight million children. It’s the longest life expectancy CHIP has had this century.

We’ve worked together to fight the opioid crisis, with innovative solutions like our law supporting places like Brigid’s Path in Dayton, pioneering the best ways to care for babies born with addiction.  

Together we’ve continued President Obama’s work to close the opportunity gap between young men of color and their peers by launching more than 10 My Brother’s Keeper chapters across Ohio – the second-most of any state in the country.

We passed the Leveling the Playing Field act to make it easier for American companies to stand up to countries that cheat our trade laws. Companies like ArcelorMittal, Nucor, and Tate & Lyle have won trade cases following the enactment of Leveling the Playing Field. And that makes a real difference for American jobs.

Time and time again, we’ve pressured CEOs to lift wages for their workers. And in December, right here in Ohio, the Cleveland Clinic announced it will raise its minimum wage to $15. That will mean a raise for almost 3,000 people by 2020.

We have a lot to be proud of. But we also have so much work left to do. And that’s why we are here tonight.

Last week I was in Lordstown meeting with workers who have been pushed aside by GM. One woman said to me: “All we want is to get up and work hard, support our families, build a nest egg, and have decent healthcare and retirement. But those jobs are getting harder and harder to come by.”

She’s right. And we’re going to fight like hell to keep GM in Lordstown and save those jobs.

But it shouldn’t be just some jobs that allow people to work hard and build a better life.

As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. taught us, “all labor has dignity,” and no job is really menial if it pays adequate wages.

The dignity of work means hard work should pay off for everyone, no matter who you are or what kind of work you do:

Whether you punch a clock or swipe a badge, earn a salary, or make tips; whether you’re raising children or caring for an aging parent; regardless of your race or gender.

All workers. No matter whether you shower before work or after work; whether you go to work early in the morning or late at night.

Because when you love this country, you fight for the people who make it work.

And tomorrow, Connie and I will take that fight across the country, with a Dignity of Work listening tour in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina.

All across the country, hard work isn’t paying off like it should. 

Corporate profits have soared. Executive compensation has exploded. Workers are producing more than ever before. But their wages are flat.

And we know it’s even worse for women and people of color. They face the same challenges, on top of sexism and racism that make it even harder to get ahead, no matter how hard they work.

Meanwhile, the cost of healthcare is up, rent is up, childcare costs are up, college tuition is up. Even people with good jobs tell me they don’t feel stable. And they find it difficult, if not impossible, to save for retirement.

Even folks with pensions are under attack. Across Ohio and across the country, hundreds of thousands of Teamsters, miners, and others are living in fear of losing the pensions they earned over a lifetime of work.

My friend Rita Lewis told me they feel like they are invisible. Well, they are not invisible to us. We fight for them and we fight for all workers.

We fight for the construction worker in Manchester. The physical therapist in Reno. The restaurant worker in Florence. The teacher in Iowa City.

And that fight is what this tour is all about.

When work has dignity, we honor the pensions people earned. When work has dignity, everyone can afford health care, education, and housing.  

They have power over their schedules and the economic security to start a family, pay for daycare and college, take time off to care for themselves or their families when they’re sick, and save for retirement.

When work has dignity, people come before corporate profits and Wall Street greed.

When work has dignity, our country has a strong middle class.

Dignity of work is a value that unites all of us.

But Donald Trump doesn’t respect the dignity of work.

He has betrayed workers – people like those folks I met with in Lordstown. He promised them, “Don’t move, don’t sell your house. We’re going to fill up those factories, or rip them down and build new ones.”

And now that their jobs are on the line, not only has he not lifted a finger to help, he actually passed a tax law that could reward GM for making cars in Mexico instead of here in Ohio.

Trump’s response? He said it, quote, “doesn’t really matter.” And that those jobs would be replaced in, quote, “like 2 minutes.”

Well, we are still waiting.

Donald Trump has used his phony populism to divide Americans and demonize immigrants. He uses phony populism to distract from the fact that he has used the White House to enrich people like himself.

Real populism is not racist.

It’s never anti-Semitic.

Populists don’t engage in hate speech, and they don’t rip babies from their families at the border.

Populists don’t insult people’s intelligence by lying.

We don’t appeal to some by pushing others down. 

We lift everyone up.

I’ve said it before and I say it again to you tonight: This is our America. And we will never give up the hallowed ground of patriotism to the extremists – not at the Statehouse and not in the White House.

When you love this country, you fight for the people who make it work. And tomorrow, we take that fight on the road.

Thank you and goodnight.

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