News Releases

Murray at National Firefighter Convention: “Workers and Middle Class Values Are Being Threatened in Wisconsin and Washington, D.C.”

Mar 15 2011

Murray makes connection between Republican Governors’ fight against workers in states, and Congressional Republicans’ extreme budget proposals in Washington, D.C.

 (Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) spoke at the International Association of Firefighters’ Alfred K. Whitehead Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C. She talked about the support her family received from the government when times got tough, and about the middle class values she cares deeply about that are currently being challenged. Murray also connected the assault on workers’ rights by Republican governors in Wisconsin and across the country to what Republicans in Congress are attempting with their extreme budget proposal that would slash investments in workers and the middle class.

Key excerpts from the speech:

“My family got by with a little bit of luck. We pulled through with a lot of hard work. But most of all, we made it because we had a government at our back that was there when we needed it….You know, it wasn’t always easy, especially for my mom. She was going to school, working a part time job, raising seven kids, and taking care of my dad. But we got the help we needed from our country, and that made all the difference for our middle-class family.”

“But you know something, that American value system that allowed my family to succeed is being challenged.  The value system that puts middle class families first; That provides support for the most vulnerable among us; That values the men and women who build our country and keep us safe…Those are the values I stand for. But they are under attack right now on a number of fronts.”

‘From the way some Republican Governors have been acting in states like Wisconsin, Ohio, and Florida—they seem to think our problems have been caused by middle class public workers! Look, we all know the Wall Street crisis has caused massive revenue losses in states across the country—and Governors have to make some tough decisions about how they’re going to balance their budgets. But I am deeply disappointed that Republicans like Governor Walker in Wisconsin put partisan politics and ideology over sound public policy and working families.”

“….this is not really even about the budget! If this was just about saving money, Governor Walker would have accepted the concessions offered by his state’s workers. But he didn’t do that. Because he doesn’t just want to just slash workers’ salaries, he wanted to gut the organized institutions that stand up for workers in his state and across the country.”

“And this isn’t just happening in the states—workers and middle class families are also being threatened here in our nation’s capitol. And nowhere do we see that more clearly than in the Republicans’ extreme budget proposals.”

“…I am extremely disappointed that the very Republicans who came into office talking about the economy have proposed a budget that would destroy hundreds of thousands of jobs, devastate workers and small businesses across the country, and threaten our fragile economic recovery.

“I am disappointed that at a time when middle class families still need some support to get back on their feet after the Wall Street Crisis, Republicans have proposed a highly politicized, slash-and-burn budget that would pull the rug out from under these families and their children.”

“And I am disappointed that while Democrats are working hard to make responsible and practical budget cuts that will allow us to continue out-innovating, out-educating, and out-building our competitors—Republicans are proposing a budget that would hack away at investments across the board and threaten our nation’s ability to compete now and in the future.”

“…I spoke about what’s going on in states across the country. And I talked about what is happening with the budget here in Washington, D.C.  These may seem like separate issues, but they are deeply intertwined.  They both represent an attack on middle class families and workers.  They both demonstrate a serious overreach by Republicans who are fiercely out of step with the majority of working Americans.  They both highlight the differences in priorities between those who fight for Main Street, and those who stand up for Wall Street.  And they both should be seen as a call to action for people across the country who care about those American values I mentioned earlier; who understand that workers are the heart and soul of our country; and who know that organized labor is one of the most powerful forces we have standing up for middle class values and priorities.”

“As firefighters, you all know a thing or two about sticking together, about helping others, and about standing up for your community. I see that with my brother, and with so many of the firefighters I work with back in Washington state.”

The full text of Senator Murray’s speech follows:

“Hello—and thank you so much Harold for that wonderful introduction and for inviting me to speak here today. {IAFF General President Harold Schaitberger}

“I also want to thank Tom Miller {IAFF General Secretary-Treasurer} and Kevin O’Connor {IAFF Government Affairs}.And I want to say a special hello to some great guys from my home state of Washington who are here today:  Kelly Fox, Ricky Walsh, and Greg Markley.

“These guys had my back in this past election.   They were out there on the doors and the phones and getting people out to vote. And they even came out and flipped pancakes with me one day at the Local # 31 hall in Tacoma!

“You know as a mom – and grandma – I thought I cornered the market on making great pancakes, but as it turns out, firefighters can give me a run for my money. I don’t know if you have any breakfasts planned during this conference, but have these guys make you some pancakes!

“I also want to thank everyone in this room for coming here to Washington, D.C. to fight for firefighters across the country. And for everything you all do every day to keep families in your communities safe.

“I want to start off with a quick story, and then I am going to talk a little bit about what is going on in Wisconsin and other states around the country, what is happening right here in Washington, D.C., how they are connected, and what that means for middle class families and workers across the country.

“This story is about a family from a small town called Bothell, in Washington state. About a mother and father who were working hard—playing by the rules. Doing their best to raise their kids—and feeling confident they were doing what they needed to do to get by and give their children a shot at the American Dream.  But suddenly, and completely unexpectedly, that family’s life changed forever.

“The father, the breadwinner, got sick. He could no longer work.  For several months, this family relied on food stamps. They weren’t much, but it kept food on the table while they figured things out.

“The mother, who had stayed home for many years to raise the family, had to go to work—but she didn't have the skills she needed to earn enough money to support her husband and seven children. 

“Fortunately, at that time there was a government program that helped her attend Lake Washington Vocational School where she got a two-year degree in accounting. This training allowed her to get a better job, it allowed the family to get back on their feet.

“And all of this support allowed that mother and father to give their children the support they needed to grow up to be: a school teacher, a lawyer, a homemaker, a computer programmer, a sports writer, A FIREFIGHTER, and the United States Senator standing before you today.

“This story is about my family. But stories like it could be told about millions of families. Families in Seattle, Spokane, or across the country.

“My family got by with a little bit of luck. We pulled through with a lot of hard work. But most of all, we made it because we had a government at our back that was there when we needed it.

“It was there with food stamps, to make sure we never went hungry. It was there with worker training programs, so my mom could get the skills she needed to succeed. And it was there with student loans, so my brothers and sisters and I could go to college, which we never would have been able to afford without support.

“You know, it wasn’t always easy, especially for my mom. She was going to school, working a part time job, raising seven kids, and taking care of my dad. But we got the help we needed from our country, and that made all the difference for our middle-class family.

“But you know something, that American value system that allowed my family to succeed is being challenged.

“The value system that puts middle class families first; That provides support for the most vulnerable among us; That values the men and women who build our country and keep us safe; And that says “no matter where you come from, or how rich or poor your parents are—you deserve an equal opportunity to succeed.”

“Those are the values I stand for. But they are under attack right now on a number of fronts.

“Thirty years ago, almost one in four American workers belonged to a union. Today, that number has plummeted to just one in ten.

“Over those three decades the average income in America went up by around 11,000 in today’s dollars.

“Which sounds good, until we see that every penny of that growth went to the top 10%—with the majority of that just to the top 1%.

“While the wages of every other American worker actually declined over the last thirty years!

“And during the “economic expansion” from 2002 to 2007, fully 65% of the growth in America went to the top 1% alone!  Sixty-five percent!

“Meanwhile, Wall Street bankers spent that time inflating a housing bubble in America and creating new financial products to sell. And when that bubble burst, it wasn’t Wall Street that suffered—it was Main Street and America’s workers that bore the brunt of the recession that followed.

“We all saw friends and neighbors lose their job, families lose their homes, mom and pop stores that had been open for fifty years shutting their doors, pension funds and retirement accounts getting wiped out. And then we saw Wall Street go right back to the bonus-as-usual mentality that got us into this mess.

“So the way it seems to me, now—more than ever—is the time when we need to be standing up for the middle class families who have been hurt the most. When we need to continue standing up for workers, and making sure they have the support and resources they need to succeed. And when we need to continue holding Wall Street accountable, and enforcing the rules we put in place to make sure an economic crisis like this never happens again.

“But, you know, apparently some people have a very different view of what’s gone wrong in our economy.

“From the way some Republican Governors have been acting in states like Wisconsin, Ohio, and Florida—they seem to think our problems have been caused by middle class public workers!

“Look, we all know the Wall Street crisis has caused massive revenue losses in states across the country—and Governors have to make some tough decisions about how they’re going to balance their budgets.

“But I am deeply disappointed that Republicans like Governor Walker in Wisconsin put partisan politics and ideology over sound public policy and working families.

“First of all, I don’t think that the men and women who go to work every day teaching our children, building our roads, keeping criminals off the street, and fighting fires—should bear the full responsibility for balancing states’ budgets.

“Especially when the richest people and corporations are seeing tax cuts in some of these same Republican proposals!!

“But second of all—this is not really even about the budget! If this was just about saving money, Governor Walker would have accepted the concessions offered by his state’s workers. But he didn’t do that. Because he doesn’t just want to just slash workers’ salaries, he wanted to gut the organized institutions that stand up for workers in his state and across the country.

“He wanted to end the right for workers to organize and collectively bargain—an American right that has been long recognized as a key element of economic freedom. And it is clear to me that he wants to neutralize a force he sees as a political enemy. And this is absolutely wrong.

“I was proud and inspired to see so many people come together in Wisconsin and across the nation to stand up for working families.  And although Wisconsin Republicans managed to push this extreme legislation through with a parliamentary gimmick, I am confident voters are going to make them pay for their overreach at the polls.

“And this isn’t just happening in the states—workers and middle class families are also being threatened here in our nation’s capitol. And nowhere do we see that more clearly than in the Republicans’ extreme budget proposals.

“You know, I am extremely disappointed that the very Republicans who came into office talking about the economy have proposed a budget that would destroy hundreds of thousands of jobs, devastate workers and small businesses across the country, and threaten our fragile economic recovery.

“I am disappointed that at a time when middle class families still need some support to get back on their feet after the Wall Street Crisis, Republicans have proposed a highly politicized, slash-and-burn budget that would pull the rug out from under these families and their children.

“And I am disappointed that while Democrats are working hard to make responsible and practical budget cuts that will allow us to continue out-innovating, out-educating, and out-building our competitors—Republicans are proposing a budget that would hack away at investments across the board and threaten our nation’s ability to compete now and in the future.

“Their budget proposal slashes education funding, transportation investments, workforce training—and so many other programs critical to middle class families across the country.

“It would slash some of the bipartisan programs we’ve created to keep our families safe, including massive, 66% cuts to both the transit security grant program that helps communities keep their trains and subways safe, as well as the port security grant program that helps protect critical economic and national security assets across the country.

“It would even cut the housing vouchers that keep 10,000 homeless veterans off the streets—which, as the new chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, I am going to do everything I can to fight.

“And it does all that while protecting subsidies for massive oil companies and tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires!

“As you have probably heard, the original House bill even slashed FIRE Grants and completely eliminated the SAFER Grants fire departments across the country depend on, before Democrats managed to restore that funding in a successful amendment.

“Look, we absolutely need to cut spending and bring down the deficit. Democrats and Republicans agree about that.

“But we need to do that responsibly. And we can’t allow it to happen on the backs of middle class families and workers across the country.

“You know, I spoke about what’s going on in states across the country. And I talked about what is happening with the budget here in Washington, D.C.  These may seem like separate issues, but they are deeply intertwined.  They both represent an attack on middle class families and workers.

“They both demonstrate a serious overreach by Republicans who are fiercely out of step with the majority of working Americans.

“They both highlight the differences in priorities between those who fight for Main Street, and those who stand up for Wall Street.

“And they both should be seen as a call to action for people across the country who care about those American values I mentioned earlier; who understand that workers are the heart and soul of our country; and who know that organized labor is one of the most powerful forces we have standing up for middle class values and priorities.

“You know, Martin Luther King, Jr. famously wrote that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” These are the words we all need to keep in mind today.

“Injustice in Wisconsin is a threat to justice in my home state of Washington. A threat to justice in New York, California, Minnesota.  And threats to the rights of workers in any state, or in any budget—are threats to middle class families in every state, and every budget.

“As firefighters, you all know a thing or two about sticking together, about helping others, and about standing up for your community. I see that with my brother, and with so many of the firefighters I work with back in Washington state.

“So as you go out and talk to your lawmakers this week, make sure they realize what’s at stake here in D.C. and across the country.  And make sure they know firefighters are proud to stand with all workers and middle class Americans to fight for what we know is right.  For investments in our workers, in education, in our infrastructure, in our veterans, in public safety, and for the middle class values that make this country great.

“Because every family in America deserves to have the opportunities my family had all those years ago.  And every worker deserves the right to bargain collectively for fair wages and safe working conditions.

“So thank you again for inviting me to speak here today. I am proud to stand by your side here in Washington, D.C. to fight for your priorities, and to make sure you get the resources you need to stay safe on the job and can continue protecting our families and communities.

“Enjoy the rest of the conference.”