Press Release

Gillibrand Delivers Keynote Speech At High Wage America Summit

Sep 13, 2018

**WATCH Senator Gillibrand’s Speech HERE**

Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) today delivered remarks at the High Wage America Summit, co-hosted by The Century Foundation and the Economic Policy Institute.

Below are Senator Gillibrand’s remarks as delivered:

Thank you so much for that kind introduction and for your vision. I think it is extraordinary and I think it’s important and I think it’s timely.

I also want to recognize Bernard Schwartz, who has been a dear friend and mentor of mine for over a decade. And he’s an extraordinary person who – the fact that he wants to have this Rediscovering Government Initiative shows how much he cares about the future of this country. And I just want to commend him, and to the extent you know him, thank him for the work he’s doing.

And congratulations on your upcoming 100 year anniversary! That is a century of great work; I look forward to another century of great work.

Before I begin, I just want to say a few words about Hurricane Florence. Because it really is closing in on many communities in North Carolina and South Carolina.

And having lived through Superstorm Sandy and having seen the devastation that it wrought throughout New York State, I can tell you, it is going to be something that will take all of us to not only care about, but to be focused on rebuilding the communities that are harmed and damaged.

And so we will stand with the people in those states for as long and intensely as they need our support. So I just want to send my thoughts and prayers there.

I’m really honored to be here with so many extraordinary thought leaders, labor leaders, leaders in manufacturing and economic policy. I really appreciate your dedication and focus on solving one of the biggest problems we have right now in the economy.

I know why you’re all here.

You’re here basically because too many workers in our country are underpaid.

Too many workers aren’t earning enough to take care of their kids, to be able to put some money away, to be able to have a vacation, to be able to take time off when, God-forbid, someone in their family is injured or sick.

And too many men and women in my state, and in our country, who want to work, who are able to work, don’t have access to the good job, or the right job, or the kind of job that would let them provide for their families.

And all of this comes down to one very simple point:

We do need to start rewarding work in this country again!

Despite the stated low unemployment rate, our workers continue to take the hit – and the government hasn’t done nearly enough to stop it.

Too many times, the people in power put corporations over workers.

Too often, elected leaders stand on the sidelines while corporations switch out good-paying jobs – stable manufacturing jobs – with low-wage, unstable jobs, or no jobs at all.

It’s our responsibility to create an environment where everyone has the opportunity to work hard and succeed.

It’s our responsibility to create the incentives and programs for when a factory shuts down, those workers aren’t the ones holding the bag.

Those in positions of power have failed to do that – and that’s why we need to change course now.

It’s just a question of whether or not we have the will to do it.

And how do I know that? Because we’ve done it before.

When our country went through the industrial revolution, and American companies needed a better-educated workforce, elected leaders had the will to establish a universal public education system that produced more high school and more college graduates in the 20th century than any other nation in the world.

When American scientists and engineers figured out how to wire a room or a building with electricity, the country had the will to wire the entire nation with electricity – even the most remote, far-off towns.

When our farmers and factories needed faster ways to ship their goods worldwide, the federal government had the will to build an interstate highway system that connected every corner of the country.

So let me ask you this: What do we actually have the will to do right now?

Do we have the will to bring high-speed internet to every town and village and neighborhood in the country – something everyone should have access to in the year 2018?

Do we have the will to make sure that every American who wants to be working can be working full-time?

This Congress had the political will to wrongly hand out permanent tax cuts to corporations, while giving the bulk of individual tax breaks to the wealthiest.

So does Congress now have the will to invest resources in all our workers and in all our communities?

Do we have the will to rebuild our manufacturing communities to lead the world in 21st century production?

I believe manufacturing jobs need to be at the center of bringing good jobs to all of our communities.

That’s why I just wrote and passed a good bipartisan bill that allowed communities to designate themselves as manufacturing communities and get grant funding to build those manufacturing communities out.

Because I want to see Made in America again. I want to see Made in America in places like Upstate New York. In rural places.

But we also have to prepare our workers for the advanced manufacturing jobs of today and tomorrow, not just the traditional old factory jobs of yesterday.

That means teaching our kids in high school how to use 3D printers, laser cutters, and computerized machine tools.

We need our workers to have access to high-quality apprenticeship training, and specialized advanced training at no or low cost, so they can have the right experience for the job that they want.

We need our entrepreneurs to have access to capital, so they can take a good idea, and turn it into a new advanced manufacturing company.

Just this week, I toured a factory in Upstate New York, in the North Country, and it was basically 3D printing of titanium wire. It was very innovative. And they were making parts for Boeing.

They are part of a 50 advanced manufacturing company consortium that makes up a transportation and aerospace manufacturing hub. It employs about 8,500 people in Upstate New York.

So if we want to create more good jobs like these, we need to out-compete China, we need to out-compete Germany, we need to out-compete any nation in the world when it comes to advanced manufacturing.

And that’s what we do. I’ve been to a lot of companies throughout Upstate New York, and in their warehouse where they’re shipping their goods, I see labels for China, for India, for all across the globe – because we are better at doing advanced manufacturing.

So we have to fight. We have to fight for our entrepreneurs, we have to fight for our workers, and we have to fight for our unions.

Right now the labor movement is under attack. Our workers and the economy at large are suffering because of that.

Every day, well-funded, well-organized campaigns are trying to undermine our workers.

They’re trying to pass these sinister “right to work for less” laws.

They’re trying to convince workers that they don’t need unions. They’re trying to convince the country that we don’t need unions, and that workers’ rights are somehow bad for the economy.

They were cheering about the Janus Supreme Court decision, which is going to decimate unions that protect so many of our teachers and our nurses and other public sector workers.

And I promise you, if Brett Kavanaugh is confirmed, it will tilt the Supreme Court even further in favor of corporations over workers. That’s what his record shows. That’s what his previous decisions show.

We need to take these attacks on unions seriously, because some of them have already succeeded, and so we have to really figure out how we’re going to overcome it.

This administration has relentlessly attacked unions because they know that unions are fighting for workers.

They know that if workers had a voice at the table, then companies would be forced to pay higher wages, overtime, and benefits – where they would prefer those investments go elsewhere: to shareholders, to owners, to donors.

When workers don’t have the freedom to organize, when workers don’t have a say in the workplace, when workers don’t have a union, then corporations have enormous power over their workers.

They can keep wages so low that their full-time employees actually live in poverty.

Our country needs unions because it’s time to give that power back to our hardworking men and women in the country.

And I’m proud that New York is one of the most unionized states in the country. I wish all of the country was as unionized as New York State.

But I also know that this is a fight that we can win – and the reason why I know that is because we’ve won these fights in the past.

We’ve done this before.

Even our most fundamental, basic workplace rights that every single American worker supports and thinks it’s right to have and good for this country only came about because of massive fights.

Every single time.

Let’s take an easy one: child labor. No one here believes we should have child labor.

But it was a huge fight. We all agree that no 14-year-old should be working in a factory or a 15-year-old should be working in a mine.

But don’t be fooled into thinking that the fight to end child labor was easy – because it wasn’t.

In 1935, when Congress was fighting to make child labor illegal once and for all, outside groups – do you want to know what that one was called?

National Committee for the Protection of Child, Family, School, and Church.

They were the ones trying to block the child labor law. They handed out the pamphlets. They handed out the leaflets. Just like organizing today.

A nice name. Reminds me of “Right to Work.”

Today, they have leaflets and pamphlets too. But they’re also using dark money – and they’re using a lot of it.

They’re spending dark money to make sure that they can overcome the power and the protection of workers.

They are spending money on TV. They’re spending money on Facebook and other platforms.

But even with all of that opposition, the child labor law – it still got passed.

Same thing happened when we created the minimum wage.

And I’m not talking about the debate that’s going on today, because I do believe the minimum wage should be $15 dollars an hour and it should be clocked to inflation. It should actually be indexed.

But in the first battle for minimum wage, the battle was whether you should have a minimum wage at all.

And it was at the height of the Great Depression in 1938.

People were suffering and Congress, for the first time, was trying to create a minimum wage for the country so people would suffer just a little bit less.

And the debate went on and on, and I’m sure everyone can guess why.

One of the Senators in 1938 made it very clear: Quote, “Highly paid executives of large corporations have contended that this bill is a dangerous bill.”

Sounds familiar.

Highly paid executives are saying that higher wages and $15 minimum wage are also dangerous today.

But the minimum wage did get passed and it was good for our country.

And so my point is really this: Every single time, every single time there is a battle that must be waged, it has been fought.

And it was only won because people are willing to fight with everything they have. Their voices, their platforms, their time, their talent, their treasure – all of it. 

If you are not willing to fight these fights, you will lose them. And so take the lesson of our forbearers. 

It is worth fighting for. And unfortunately, the direction of this country has gone in the wrong direction for twenty, thirty, maybe forty years.

We have not been talking about the real solutions for how you fix this economy.

None of it is inevitable. All of it is in play.

And so be part of the leaders that are going to change this country and put it in the right direction.

And so I think we need to reward work again.

And let me tell you again what this means to me. 

First – it means raising the minimum wage to have higher wages for everyone and it means equal pay for equal work. Pretty simple.

Second – it means creating the structural support that supports workers and allows them to thrive. That includes having a national paid leave plan. It includes affordable daycare. It includes universal pre-K. It includes healthcare as a right and not a privilege. It includes something as simple as postal banking.

Third – it means giving workers a stake in their companies.

Now this is an idea whose time has come. We should give workers the power by promoting things like profit sharing, co-ops, employee ownership. They work.

Fourth, and perhaps most importantly – and this is the idea we need to spend a lot of time talking about how to do this – but we should really be fighting for full employment.

And I’m going to tell you why.

So people will say, “We’re at four percent unemployment. That’s success. It’s a great success – lowest unemployment ever.”

Well it’s not success if you’re a young veteran, who just came back from Iraq or Afghanistan. Your unemployment rate might be 20 percent.

It’s not success if you’re a young, African American male living in an inner city, who might have an unemployment rate of 10 percent, 15 percent, or 20 percent, given what city it’s in.

So it’s not success for everybody.

So why don’t we fix the problem? And the way you fix that problem is to fund the kind of worker training that would work.

That means using our not-for-profit sector. It means using our community colleges. It means using our public sector higher education. It means using apprenticeship programs. So you actually create the pipeline for the right job training for the right job that people need.

You can use the public sector as a way to get workers into the workforce, so then they can in the future compete for higher wages and better jobs.

It’s not a new idea. It’s just an idea we haven’t fought for in a very long time.

Bobby Kennedy talked about it. He called it “the channels of opportunity.”

Coretta Scott King, and Martin Luther King, Jr, fought for it. She thought it was important because she said, “We are at the point where we must have economic power.”

Sounds familiar. It’s exactly how you started this conference.

We are at the point where workers must have economic power.

We’ve tried everything else. And it’s not working.

So I believe in those words.

So let’s unleash the full potential of America’s economy.

We have the hardest-working people in the world. We have an ideal – it’s called the American Dream.

We have always believed that you should be able to work your way into the middle class. And I can tell you, no matter where I travel in my state, people don’t believe that dream is for them anymore.

Their anxiety, their fear about the future, is because they don’t see it. They don’t think they can earn enough. They don’t think their kids can earn enough.

And so they just want someone fighting for them. That’s our job. Let’s fight for them, let’s put our workers first, let’s reward work in this country again, and let’s not give up.

Thank you so much.