My Remarks to the Greater Boston Labor Council on Labor Day

September 7, 2020 News

(As Delivered)

I want to say Happy Labor Day to everybody!

This year is certainly going to go into the history books, and not just as the year of the pandemic. It will be the year of the essential worker, and it’s important for us to remember that. It will be because it was, and is, working men and women, truly essential people, who stepped forward to keep us safe, keep us fed, keep us going, and keep giving us hope.

We certainly didn’t get any help or hope from the White House. The President said the coronavirus would magically disappear. He undermined the public health experts and he still does it today. He failed to put testing in place. He scapegoated immigrants. He made states and cities fight each other for PPE. He turned wearing masks into a partisan issue, which very likely costing lives. He even suggested ingesting bleach. The President made us less safe.

In Boston, we took a very different approach. As you all know, many of you know, I come from an immigrant background, working-class family in this city. I come from the Labor community in Boston. I am a proud laborer of Laborers Local 223. In Boston, we bring people together and we leave no one behind. And that’s what you heard here today from the community organizations and the Labor Movement. They don’t leave people behind.

We knew we couldn’t rely on Trump, so we took it upon ourselves to protect our city. We followed the expertise – believe it or not – of doctors, and scientists, and nurses. We actually listened to the medical experts who went to school for it. We took aggressive action to slow the spread of the virus and provide testing and PPE for all who need it. The people of Boston have joined us in this fight and followed the guidelines – that’s why our rate is under 2.3 percent citywide for coronavirus today. We worked together to meet the needs of everyone in our community. We didn’t leave anyone behind and we’re not going to leave anyone behind.

Right here behind me, this building, the Convention Center – it’s the site of a powerful story I will never forget. Over five days – five days in April, we built a 1000-bed field hospital right here inside this building. We got together: the city, and the state, and the Convention Center called it Boston Hope Medical Center, and it took all of us working together: City, State, and Massachusetts Convention Center Authority; the nurses, doctors, and hospitals; the homeless providers and the recovery counselors; the Building Trades unions and the construction companies who built it; Unite HERE Local 26 was part of this; Local 3 SEIU was part of this; the Army and National Guard; EMTs, firefighters, police officers – you didn’t hear any complaints at all about this place being built. We all got together because we knew that we had to build a hospital. We had workers and volunteers from every background – Black and white, Latino, and Asian. We had women and men, gay and straight, immigrants from every part of the world – all working together, all working together because we are Boston Strong.

Our goal was to care for the sick and vulnerable and make sure that our nurses, doctors, and hospitals could do the life-saving work that they do every day and not be overwhelmed. And we didn’t just talk about that goal, we brought people together, we rolled up our sleeves, and we got it done. We built a field hospital that served over 750 patients right behind me.

And we did so much more than that in the city and we continue to:

  • We brought together food service workers, teachers, bus drivers, frontline workers, nonprofits and volunteers to get over three million meals to hungry children, families, and seniors in our city. Think about that for a minute – we delivered over three million meals and we still continue to do that today.
  • We also secured an eviction moratorium and a foreclosure prevention plan for our workers that couldn’t afford it and were worried about being evicted. We issued hundreds of new rental vouchers. We created the Rental Relief Fund to keep families in their homes so they don’t have to be stressed out about potentially being thrown out. That work all still continues in the City of Boston.
  • We got PPE to our frontline workers. We support our nursing homes and our small businesses. And as I said we continue to move forward.

The Boston Resiliency Fund – we brought together the resiliency fund. We raised over $33 million from the private sector and getting $26 million of that into the community so far to organizations working on the ground saving lives. And nearly 60 percent of all the organizations are led by people of color and women. Many are represented here today: The Brazilian Worker Center, The Chinese Progressive Association, Viet-AID, Local 26, 1199SEIU, and Community Labor United.  I want to again thank all of our partners in this work as we continue to work together. I have never been more proud to be mayor of this city than I am today.

And we’re not finished. We’re in this fight together every single day. We know that this virus is still with us – we’re wearing masks right now. If you have lost a loved one, you and my family are in my thoughts and prayers. We are working, every day, to prevent further suffering and get help to those who need it.

In the coming months, we will continue to follow the science and data, we will continue to increase testing, we will continue to bring outreach and resources to the communities hit the hardest, we will continue to care for the vulnerable, and we will continue to listen to workers in every industry to get people back to work safely. That’s what we have to do and that’s what I’m going to partner with you to do. We have to continue to do that.

The economic impact is still with us, and it will be with us for some time. Your members are feeling it and your members are telling you about it because your organizations are talking with me about it. We’re facing a crushing loss of jobs and small businesses in this state and in this country. I’m going to keep advocating with the state, the federal government, and the private sector to do more for those business and those individuals who are hurting. I’m going to keep using every resource at our city’s disposal to get people the help they need and they deserve.

And as we take on COVID, we must also stay focused on the big challenges our nation and our city face. Systemic racism is still with us. Every aspect of this crisis hits Black and Latino communities harder. Every aspect of inequality in our country hits Black and Latino communities harder. As members of the Labor Movement, we are called to fight for racial justice for our brother and sister workers. That is our obligation and that is our duty to do that. That is what the labor movement has done from the beginning. And as mayor of Boston, I am committed to ripping out racism and inequality by the roots, with local actions that set a national example. In economic equity, in police reform, in education, in healthcare, all the actions we are taking are for a more just community. And we will bring Boston out of this pandemic a more equitable community than when we entered it.

These are no small tasks, but our future depends upon them. There are some little ones here – we have an obligation to them to hand off a city that is better than we have to them. That’s what we have to do. This is your moment, leaders. This is your moment. I know that in this pandemic, we think about what we would do when we’re looking for that superstar moment or that moment to do something. All of you, everyone in this parking lot is a leader. If you think that you haven’t done enough, now’s the time to start. Now’s the time to raise up and now’s the time to start to push back, because there’s plenty of work for us to do.

The truth is, our entire country is at a turning point. I gave something similar to this speech four years ago at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel. I was on the stage and we were hooting and hollering and yelling. But there was an undercurrent that I didn’t expect that day – an undercurrent that people weren’t supporting the Democratic nominee for President. So we have an opportunity for a redo. Think about the last four years. Think about where our country is. Regardless of who voted and how you voted, think about are we better off today as a country – not as an individual but as a country. Because just like the Labor Movement we are not individuals, we are part of a bigger thing. When you put a shirt on and that shirt has a number – that’s who you represent, and it’s important for us to understand that and continue to think about it moving forward.

We face one threat that makes all the others much harder to overcome. It’s the person who sits in the White House. I don’t want to waste much time talking about him. It’s enough to say that, in America’s time of need, he not only failed us, but he undermined our efforts. He can’t do his job and he’ll never be able to do it. He stands for the opposite of what working people – of what you stand for, everyone in this parking lot. Last week he was quoted disrespecting our wounded veterans and our fallen heroes. He is attacking our postal workers who are delivering the mail for us in rain, snow, sleet, sun, every single day – he wants to hurt the election. In 2016, we knew he had it bad; but it turns out, he’s much worse.

But there is good news and there is definitely a clear solution. It’s a democratic solution. The election takes place in 57 days. In 57 days, we have an election, we have an opportunity. And it’s electing Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Kamala Harris as the next President and Vice President of the United States of America. They have character, they have expertise, they have the vision that we need to chart a new course in this country on Day One.

2020 has been a tough year, and much work lies ahead. But imagine what 2021 could bring in just four months from now.

  • A Biden-Harris Administration will have a national plan to defeat this pandemic that’s driven by science, focused and consistent, dedicated to actually saving lives—like we have here in Boston.
  • A White House that leads the movement to end racism once and for all in our country, and brings people together around police reform that builds trust and safety in our communities, rather than causing divisiveness–and we’re doing that here in Boston.
  • A White House committed to preventing climate disaster; committed to treating immigrants with dignity and passing immigration reform; committed to affordable housing and public education—like we are here in Boston.
  • And picture an economic plan to rebuild this country that puts working men and women at the center – can you imagine that? Actually starting with working men and women? Investing in workers, reducing inequality, growing our middle class, and partnering with the Labor Movement.

That’s the approach that we’re taking here in Boston. Last month, in the City of Boston, we hired Sterlingwear, a local manufacturer in East Boston, to make up to 150,000 medical gowns for our first responders and frontline workers. Those gowns – they save lives and will be saving lives – are made by members of the New England Joint Board of the UNITE HERE union.

That’s how we take on challenges in Boston—by coming together and getting the job done. We are fighting every day to save lives. We’re fighting to feed the hungry, house the homeless, and get people back to work in a safe way.

We need our Administration in Washington to share our values, back us up – and an Administration that wants to work with mayors and cities like Boston as partners, not enemies. With Joe Biden in the White House, we will be able to do incredible things over the next four years for our city.

So let’s do this work for Boston, let’s get to work and get Joe Biden elected President, and then let’s roll up our sleeves and work with his administration to reverse the disaster of the past four years and move Boston and America forward.

That’s the opportunity we have before us. We can’t take it for granted; we have to fight for it. And here’s how I believe we must do that.

First, we need to fight together. We need to welcome people into our movement, not push them away. We need to lift each other up, not tear each other down. This is not a time to be divided or distracted. There is so much at stake.

Second, we need to get to work. I ask every single one of you here today if you haven’t already: make a plan to support the work in swing states to elect Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. Find out what you can do to help the Democratic candidates from Maine to Arizona. We have to win back the Senate. It is time to speak up, reach out, and organize—all the things that labor does best.

We cannot let this moment pass. We have to talk on the job sites to our members that are hard to convince: learn the facts, learn that the courts are not for Labor, learn that this Administration is not for pensions, learn that this Administration is not for the things you fought for and the things our predecessors fought for 50 years ago. This Administration and the United States Senate want to tear them down.

This isn’t a rah-rah speech I’m giving today. This is a speech of reality. Because a year from today, I want to give the rah-rah speech again. I want to talk about the direction we’re headed. I want to talk about what’s changed in Washington and what’s changed all across our country.

So let’s take hope from how we are meeting these historic challenges in Boston. Let’s take hope from the unity, strength, and diversity here today – look around this parking lot, look around our city and our Commonwealth. Let’s take hope from the opportunity we have now to come together and write a new chapter. As labor leaders, it’s an opportunity for you to write a new chapter. As community organizers we can write a new chapter.

It’s an opportunity to build back our country – the United States of America – together, the that way we built the hospital behind us here in five days. It’s an opportunity to build back with compassion, the way we came together to feed our city. It’s an opportunity to build up and build back a country that works for every community, the way we brought together the Boston Resiliency Fund here to work with organizations.

This Labor Day, 2020, we have an opportunity to rise together as working people once again, to meet a crisis head-on, fight for our community, and the most important thing, save our country.

God Bless you, God Bless the labor movement, and God Bless the United States of America.