Remarks by Rob Menendez to the New Jersey State AFL-CIO’s 2022 State Legislative Conference

Good morning.

It is a pleasure to be here with you today to honor the work being done by organized labor in our great state.

I am particularly honored to share the stage with my friends, Charlie Wowkanech and Laurel Brennan.

In the 25 years since Charlie and Laurel have taken the helm of the New Jersey AFL-CIO, they have held politicians at all levels of government accountable to the needs of our brothers and sisters in labor.

Because of their efforts, there are more workers in our state who are able to earn living wages and have the retirement security that has become more and more inaccessible for far too many across our country.

But they didn’t stop there. Charlie and Laurel have fought for a more inclusive labor movement by advocating for the advancement of women in the labor movement.

New Jersey is a stronger, fairer state because of the work that they have done for working families here in our great state, and I will always be proud to fight alongside them. Charlie, Laurel, on behalf of everyone here, thank you for your leadership and for all of your hard work leading this legendary institution. 

It is also an honor to be here with Liz Shuler, who made history last year when she became the first woman to lead the AFL-CIO as President.

Liz, congratulations on your election to a full-term last week. I look forward to seeing your efforts to grow the AFL-CIO and organized labor across the country come to fruition, and I will always be there to support your mission and your work.

When we began our campaign, my first priority was reaching out to the unions that represent so many hard-working individuals in the 8th Congressional District. I grew up in a Democratic Party that not just paid lip service to organized labor but understood the important role unions play in uplifting working families throughout the country. 

I see the rising disparity in pay between executives and workers and know that if we want to create better balance in our workforce we need to once again uplift unions and give them the tools they need to organize and collectively bargain on behalf of their members. 

That if we want to once again create opportunities for upward mobility for those who do the work each and every day then we need to make unions stronger than they’ve ever been. That is why I am proud to have been endorsed by 17 unions including the Hudson County CLC, which gave me the distinct honor of being the first candidate in a Democratic primary to be endorsed by the CLC. 

So to Barry and the entire board, thank you for your trust and faith in me and our campaign to deliver for you and your members. 

And I like everyone in this room who has ever ran for office knows when Charlie, Laurel, or John Shea say they will be there for you, that they mean it.

I saw that firsthand with the hundreds of union canvassers who walked for our campaign every weekend and in the days leading up to our primary election on June 7th. We won our primary with 84% of the votes cast and we could not have achieved that result without the support of organized labor and that is something that I will never forget. 

And I will be forever grateful for the support and friendship of the AFL-CIO and the unions it represents.

The fact of the matter is that the AFL-CIO, and organized labor as a whole, has been a cornerstone of the Democratic Party  because we share the same values.

We support workers rights.

We support better working conditions.

We support fair, living wages.

We support retirement security.

We support equality in the workplace.

And together we have always worked to ensure that these values are reflected in workplaces both public and private in New Jersey, and throughout the country.

The fight for working families that we are all in is the core of why I am running for Congress.

In my own family, I have seen the difference that being in a union makes firsthand.

My paternal grandparents immigrated here from Cuba and despite working for most of their years here in the U.S. my grandfather as a carpenter, and my grandmother as a seamstress, were never part of a union, and as a result, had to rely on the support of our family as well as government assistance in their retirement.

But my maternal grandparents did and they were both proud union members. My grandfather was a Steelworker at the American Can Company in Jersey City where I live with my wife and two-year old daughter, and my grandmother worked at Emerson High School in Union City and was a member of the NJEA. My mother, a retired teacher in Union City was also a member of the NJEA

As a result of the support of their unions, they were able to retire with the comfort and dignity that every hard-working American deserves.

I want the story of my union grandparents and my mother to be the norm, not the exception.

It is more important than ever before to build power for working people.

And unions are key to that.

On average, union members earn 10% more than those who are not in unions. And for African-Americans and Latinos, the wage gap is even greater, at 17% and 23% more for union members. And women who are union members earn 24% more than their non-union peers.

Despite the clear benefits of unionization, unions are being met with increased resistance from corporations,  anti-labor politicians, and a federal judiciary stacked with anti-labor activist judges.

If we want to level the playing field we need more pro-labor elected officials and leaders who stand as tall and strong as union members do every day and that is why I am running as a proud labor-endorsed candidate.

In Congress, I will always advocate for funding and bolstering the National Labor Relations Board and the Department of Labor, so that they have the resources they need to enforce our labor laws and to hold employers accountable when they try to undermine organizing efforts.

And I will always fight right to work legislation, because it has never been about the right to work, but has always been about those in power trying to erode and eliminate the protections that allow working men and women to provide for their families.

We have to work to pass the Richard Trumka PRO Act which will put unions in the strongest position that they have been in decades and allow workers the right to organize without the fear of retaliation or firing. 

And to enable millions of gig workers to unionize and harness their collective power to open a new frontier for the labor movement.

In Congress, I will do everything in my power and use every ounce of political capital to ensure that the PRO ACT reaches the President’s desk so it can be signed into law and unions can finally have the 21st century tools they need to organize and advocate for their members.

And alongside it, I will support the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act, which will allow public workers across the country to organize, which is critical to the continued success of the many public sector unions here in New Jersey.

After decades of government actions to weaken the labor movement, we have an opportunity to fight back and to build back organized labor in this country stronger than ever before and  that will have the resources they need to stand tall and strong against the likes of Amazon, Apple and other corporate titans who have almost unlimited sums of money and anti-labor operatives and lobbyists, at their disposal.

So, I pledge to you today that I will stand with you in this fight and we will meet this moment together to ensure that workers from Jersey City to Atlantic City have the right to organize, the right to fair wages, and the right to work in a safe workplace.

In D.C., my door will always be open to the AFL-CIO, and to any union leader, union members, and anyone that wants to work together to strengthen families.

Thank you to Charlie, to Laurel, to Liz, and to every single person sitting here today or watching online for the work you are putting in to help working people in New Jersey and in the United States.

While I am honored to stand alongside of you today, I am eager to be in the fight alongside of you as a member of Congress for many years to come.