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Pelosi Remarks at United Auto Workers Legislative Conference Women's Breakfast

Washington, D.C. – House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi joined the United Auto Workers during their annual Legislative Conference for a Women’s Breakfast celebrating the contributions of women to the labor movement.  Below are the Leader’s remarks at the breakfast:

“Good morning, UAW!

[Applause]

“Thank you very much, Gary [Jones], for your very generous introduction.  I accept those compliments on behalf of the House Democratic Caucus, which made so many of our legislative successes possible.  And don’t underestimate the influence that you all had in those successes as well.  Because all the maneuvering we can do inside doesn’t amount to anything great without the outside mobilization. 

“So thank you, UAW.  Gary, thank you for your leadership of UAW’s Region 5 – including my home state of California.  Are there any Californians out there?  Okay, let’s try this: we’re near the state of Maryland.  Are there any Marylanders out there?  They didn’t have to come so far.

[Applause]

“The men and women of the United Auto Workers deserve nothing less than the best, and with your leadership team, that’s what you’re getting.  UAW President Bob King’s energy and dedication have few equals.  He’s recognized as one of the great visionaries of the labor movement.

[Applause]

“And Vice President and Women’s Department Director Cindy Estrada is a dynamic and trailblazing champion for working people. 

[Applause]

“With the rest of the executive board, and the engagement of hard working men and women like you, the UAW has continued its enduring tradition of far-reaching leadership on behalf of the rights of workers, robust job creation, shared prosperity, and a strong middle class.  That’s why I’m here today, on behalf of my colleagues: to welcome you to Washington, to thank you for your leadership, and, by the way, to compliment you for soaring with the eagles so early in the morning.

[Laughter]

“I know from my colleagues, many of whom were with you last night – you were hooting with the owls.  Who can hoot with the owls and soar with the eagles?  Just like UAW to do that.

[Laughter, Applause]

“And it’s just that energy that it’s going to take to fight the challenges that we have now.  I’m so honored that Debbie Dingell – in her own right a leader for working people and also partner to john Dingell, Dean of the House of Representatives – is with is. 

[Applause]

“And I’ve been getting reports from my colleagues about the visits to their offices.  John Lewis was regaling us last night with those stories as well, as many other Members who participated in your session last night. 

“Now let me just say, this is something that I say all the time – and my staff said: ‘You say that all the time.  Maybe you should say something else.’  But I say it all the time, and what better place than to say it here.  Walter Reuther, one of the great labor leaders of all time…

[Applause]

“…he said: ‘There is a direct relationship between the ballot box and the bread box, and what the union fights for and wins at the bargaining table can be taken away in the legislative halls.’  That’s why elections at the ballot box are so important.   Because who you elect and what they believe in and what their commitment is to working families makes a difference in the legislation.

“For more than eight decades, the UAW has fought to secure the things that Walter Reuther was referencing, at the foundation of our nation’s prosperity, our democracy and our middle class: a thriving middle class; an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work; the right to organize, negotiate, and secure a seat at the bargaining table; and fairness, opportunity and equality for all.

[Applause]

“These principles are the bedrock of our nation’s success.  So thank you for your patriotism for America.  And we know that we must work hard to defend and expand them.

“It’s very interesting, you being autoworkers, that one of the leaders in the auto industry – Henry Ford – had the wisdom to know that he had to pay his workers enough and price his cars appropriately so that the workers could buy the cars.  That whole idea, that workers are consumers and there’s a relationship to an economy that works for everyone, is something that’s been left behind.  And here’s what I see as our challenge: it’s really important that we change this attitude. 

“Go back 40 years, half the life of the UAW, less than that – and don’t take this from me.  This was the chairman of Standard Oil of New Jersey – a capitalist – and he said: ‘We have stakeholder capitalism.’  That means decisions that were made by a corporation had to tend to meet the needs of the stakeholders – certainly the management and the ownership, the workers, the customers, the community at large.  That’s what he said 40 years ago.  In the time since then, we’ve had capitalism as shareholder capitalism – only concerned about the bottom line – and that is really a big change in attitude in terms of how we reward work. 

“We talked about this before: when productivity increased under stakeholder capitalism, wages increased, CEO pay increased – 40 times say CEO pay to worker pay.  Now the gap is maybe 340 times CEO versus worker pay.  While the productivity continues to increase and CEO pay increases, workers’ pay stagnates, levels off, plateaus.  It’s just not right.  It’s just not right.  

[Applause]

“We don’t begrudge anyone their success, their achievement, the risk they take and the rest.  But we don’t want that success and achievement to be at the expense of the exploitation of the workers and the labor.

[Applause]

“And remember these are all consumers, so it has a direct impact on our economic growth.   As Martin Luther King Jr once said: ‘the labor movement was the principal force that transformed misery and despair into hope and progress.’  He said it right, as he said many things correctly.  And that’s what we have to do now.  We can complain all we want about what it is they’re doing, but we have to not agonize, we have to organize.

[Applause]

That is why it is so important that you are here this week, making your voices heard for progress and opportunity for all America’s workers.  And Congress needs to hear – on both sides of the aisle – what you have to say, what your priorities are.

“Our nation faces an opportunity gap that is wearing away at the central promise of the American Dream, that if you work hard and play by the rules, you can have a better future for you children.  The productivity of the American worker has soared – the work ethic in America is alive and well thanks to the workers of America – but all too often, your paychecks haven’t kept pace.   The American worker deserves an economy that works for everyone – not just big corporations and the wealthy.

[Applause]

“Last week, wasn’t the President great in his State of the Union Address?  He laid out a vision of opportunity and optimism for our nation.

[Applause]

“He spoke of restoring confidence in the promise of America: the idea that our destinies should be made by our grit, our determination, and our character, not the circumstances of our birth.  He spoke about an opportunity agenda, about education, and worker training – he assigned Joe Biden to take the lead on that – and building a future again of shared prosperity for everyone.  And he spoke of empowering all Americans to realize their fullest potential – including America’s hardworking women.  And when he said: ‘When women succeed, America succeeds,’ the speech went off the charts.

[Applause]

“That has been our agenda of the House Democrats, led by Rosa Delauro, Donna Edwards, and Doris Matsui.  We’ve gone all over the country – many of you have participated in our ‘When Women Succeed, America Succeeds’ agenda.  Even President Obama, after the speech when he was in Wisconsin, said: ‘When women succeed, America succeeds, and men do too.  I know when Michelle is doing good things and is happy, I do better things too.’  So we thank her for that inspiration to the President. 

[Applause]

“And as I said, we have been waiting to see the ideals of our democracy – equal rights, equal treatment, and equal opportunity – become a reality for America’s mothers, wives, and daughters.  That is why House Democrats again have been fighting to enact our economic agenda for women and families: ‘When Women Succeed, America Succeeds.’  That agenda is not every issue that we will deal with relating to women.  Of course, we think every issue is a women’s issue – the sense of our country, the strength of our economy, whatever.  But the women in the workplace have told us this, and I want to hear your reaction to this.  There were three pillars to this agenda: respecting work, so pay – equal pay for equal work for women…   

[Applause]

“Raising the minimum wage – over 60 percent of the people making the minimum wage are women…

[Applause]

“Over 50 percent of the people making the minimum wage are over 30.  So the idea that it’s just teenagers or something – as important as that is – is just not true.  It’s people with families and responsibilities, not just looking for additional cash.  Even some of those teenagers are helping to support their families and they deserve an increase.  When you raise the minimum wage, you raise the floor for everyone.  So what that means is that everybody benefits from raising the minimum wage.  You’ll take millions of people out of poverty, make them better, stronger consumers, injecting demand into the economy, creating jobs.  And again, it’s about economic growth that is spread on. 

“So paycheck fairness – we have the bill, Rosa DeLauro’s bill, the Pay Equity Act.  Minimum wage: George Miller and Tom Harkin have the bill to raise it to $10.10.  That looks like a little bit to us in California, because we have a higher minimum wage in San Francisco.  But for the country, it’s a good running start.  Let’s hear it for George Miller and Tom Harkin.  

[Applause]

“The second point that women told us would make a difference in their ability to achieve a balance home and work was a guaranteed paid sick leave. 

[Applause]

“Now most of you have that.  But many men and women in America do not.  So Rosa Delauro – let’s hear it for Rosa.  She’s been so wonderful.

[Applause]

“Rosa DeLauro has introduced the FAMILY Act, and it provides up to 12 weeks of paid leave for workers to care for a new baby, a loved one who is ill, or their own medical condition.  And gentleman, this is about you too.  So many men have said to me, including my colleagues: ‘I’ve spent more days away from work caring for my parents than I have for my children.  Because that was just absolutely a necessity.’  So men benefit from this, too. 

“And the third pillar is: affordable, quality child care. 

[Applause]

“Universal Pre-K – that’s really important, but we need to do even more than that and we have legislation to do so.  I know you have a busy schedule.  I can tell you stories all over the country about the sick leave and the need for it, paid-sick leave and the need for it, parents to have quality child care so that they can – children learning, parents earning.  There is a direct connection.

“The agenda will unleash the power of women and in doing so, grow and strengthen the middle class – the backbone of our economy.  We know – they have told us – this will increase the rate of growth of our GDP.  I had the President of – the country, not the university – Colombia come to my office and tell me, while we were having our words about trade and stuff, about how they tend to grow their economy.  I said: ‘Tell me, what is your secret; perhaps we can learn from you.’  He said one word: ‘Women.’  Women in the economy.  As we engage many more women in every level of our economy, we’ll grow our economy.  The Japanese, they announce the secret – not the secret, the formula for their success which changed how their economy grows, which involved women in every level of the economy.

[Applause]

“So this is a very – when women succeed, everybody succeeds. 

[Applause]

“And we have to have that balance between work and home. 

“My friends, I am very sad about this part of our conversation.  As we gather here today, up to 1.7 million Americans are not receiving their extended unemployment benefits.  This is shameful.  This is shameful.  These people worked hard, played by the rules, lost their jobs through no fault of their own, paid into the system.  And we have a difference in opinion in the Congress as to whether we should extend.  Now, Democrats have always maintained that this is an emergency and doesn’t need to be offset or paid-for.  We just do it because when 1.6 – 1.7 million people now – are affected by anything in the country, it’s an emergency. 

[Applause]

“We really needed to say it’s such an emergency, just thinking of those people in their homes, in their kitchen tables discussing about how they’re going to make ends meet.  Week in and week out, no check.  And resistance to creating jobs by turning down the President’s initiatives on building the infrastructure of America, building our economy and the rest of that is a combination of a terrible thing.  We’ve even said: ‘Okay, you want to pay for it?  We’ll find ways to pay for it.’  But it has to get done.

“And so when you’re making your trips to Capitol Hill as you have done, I thank you for what you have and will do to keep making the point.  

“Capitalism couldn’t exist without the safety net.  This safety net is not just for those individuals.  This safety net is for the system.  Unemployment goes up, and it goes down, and we have some leverage for working people.  The same people who resist the job creation initiatives of the President, the same people who resist raising the minimum wage, the same people who want to balance the budget by cutting public employees and investments in infrastructure and in our country are saying: ‘Now, the consequence of that policy is many unemployed people in our country, and we don’t take responsibility for that.’  And in fact, they rationalize themselves into a place where, intellectually, they think they have a basis for this.  That if you give people a check, they’re not going to look for a job.  Who do they know?  Who do they talk to?

[Applause]

“And again, remember what I said about minimum wage injecting demand into the economy?  Unemployment benefits and food stamps are two ways that we can immediately inject demand into the economy.  These people get these checks, they pay for them, they spend it immediately for necessities – not even enough money for their necessities – but they spend it immediately and inject demand into the economy, create jobs.  It’s a stimulus.  We’d like better, other stimuli, but it is a stimulus.  So this is something that we must do.  It’s almost to the point of an immorality that we would do this in the United States of America.

[Applause]

“Let me just say this one other thing.  Because, I’ve said to one of the Republicans: ‘Explain this to me.  What is this?’  When I talk to the Republicans about doing this, it’s not a priority for them.  They say: ‘Do you want to talk about immigration?’  We do want to talk about immigration.  But when we talk about this, they’re like: ‘That’s not likely to come up on our agenda.  It’s not a priority for our Members.’  Well, it’s a priority for the American people, and we’re going to insist.

[Applause]

“What I told the press after the President’s speech was – I asked one of my Republican friends: ‘What is it with you that you would not even want to look like you cared about ‘When Women Succeed, America Succeeds,’ that you would all just sit there on your hands?  Why would you not, when the President said that people who work hard and play by the rules shouldn’t have to raise their families in poverty?  Is that not an applause line regardless of party?’ They sit on their hands, on unemployment insurance, all this, they sit on their hands. 

“You know what he said to me?  He said: ‘You would understand it better if you understood that people who aspire to be middle class, lower middle income families, they’re invisible to the Republicans.  It’s not that they’ve chosen to be against them.  They’re indifferent to them.’  You know, in a relationship, when it gets to the point of indifference, you’re in big trouble.  So we have to make them interested in this.  We have to make them interested by making sure they know the American people are watching.  The American people understand that we are community in America – that’s who we are.  Again, we don’t begrudge success and wealth and entrepreneurship and risk-taking.  But we have to recognize that none of that success is possible without the workers who make that success possible.

[Applause]

‘So that’s what we have to do. Here’s where we are: we’re in a situation where we have the majority of the Republican Party, which is the majority of the House, indifferent to the needs of the American people.  We have to raise these issues.  Like President Lincoln, he said: ‘Public sentiment is everything.’  And so we have to make sure – Walter Reuther told us that that ballot box is so important, and directly relates to the bread box of American families.

“So I don’t know if we can talk politics here today, but one of the things we hope to do in the next few weeks or months – and days, too – is to make sure that the public knows the difference as to who cares about opportunity for all Americans and an economy that works for all Americans.

[Applause]

“And hopefully the result will be that the GOP will change their mind, that they will pass the minimum wage, that they will pass unemployment insurance.  Because actually, we’d rather have the success of those issues and the impact on Americas working families.  But if we don’t, we have to take it to the ballot box.  Are you ready to do that?

[Applause]

“I thought you were.

[Applause]

“Are you ready to not agonize, but organize?

[Applause]

“Do you believe that when women succeed, America succeeds?

[Applause]

“Are you ready to get out the vote and get out the message about fairness, opportunity and an economy that works for all Americans?

[Applause]

“Thank you for what you all have done and what you will do.  Thank you for having me.  Thank you all.”

[Applause]