Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis
Remarks as Prepared for Delivery
California Working Families Policy Summit 2010
Thursday, February 15, 2010
It’s a pleasure to be here.
I want to thank the California Center for Research on Women and Families for hosting this summit, the California Legislative Women’s Caucus and the California Commission on the Status of Women for co-sponsoring this event.
As you know, California is my home and where I entered public life to improve opportunities for working families, so it’s especially wonderful to be here.
I have had the pleasure of working closely with many of you on women and family issues when I was a member of the California State Assembly, the State Senate, Commission on the State of Women and the California Women’s Legislative Caucus.
I am proud of my work in the California Assembly and the State Senate.
I authored 17 bills to prevent domestic violence, championed labor, education, and health care issues.
I am a big believer that government, if done right, can do a lot to improve the quality of people's lives.
That’s why in 1995, I sponsored a bill to raise the minimum wage from $4.25 to $5.75.
It was a battle, but we won.
And along the way, I have had the privilege of working with many great women over my career.
Women like Gloria Molina and Dolores Huerta, whom many of you know.
But, my foundation was formed at home by my mother, who showed me what it meant to fight for what’s right.
She raised 7 children, and stressed the importance of education.
I’m proud to say that her children are engineers, a PhD, and yes a Cabinet Secretary.
That’s why I’m proud to be part of the Obama Administration.
We are working to improve the lives of women and girls as evidenced by the signing of the Lilly Ledbetter Act and the creation of the White House Council on Women and Girls.
This summit covers issues regarding low income families and family-friendly workplaces to help achieve work-life balance.
These are issues that directly impact workers and their families every day.
And as Secretary of Labor, I am working to address these and many other workplace issues.
My vision for the Department of Labor is “Good Jobs for Everyone”, and in particular Good Jobs for Women.
This is what a good job means to me:
- A good job supports a family be increasing incomes, ensuring fair compensation, narrows the wage gap and allows for work-life flexibility;
- A good job ensures workplaces are safe and healthy, and it gives workers a voice;
- A good job is sustainable and innovative, providing opportunities to acquire the skills and knowledge for the jobs of the future…like green jobs;
- A good job fosters fair working conditions in the global marketplace; and
- A good job will help restore the middle class.
Since the 1970’s, women’s labor force participation has risen significantly, particularly among women with children.
More women work full-time and year-round than ever before.
- Women still hold a majority of low-wage jobs and a minority of positions at the top;
- Women still face discrimination and harassment in the workplace;
- The pay gap still exists. The pay gap is 78 cents for White Women, 68 cents for African American women, and 57 cents for Latinas for every dollar earned compared to white men, and;
- Older African-American women and Latinas live in poverty at double the rate of their white counterparts, many retiring with little or no retirement savings.
And I’m sad to say that the trend toward increasing income inequality is worse in Los Angeles County than in the country as a whole.
We need to address unfair wage discrimination in a real and meaningful way.
Too many families must make the painful choice between the care of their families and a paycheck they desperately need.
The Family and Medical Leave Act allows workers to take job-protected time off unpaid, but millions of families cannot afford to use unpaid leave.
A handful of States, like California, have enacted policies to offer paid family leave, but more states should have the chance.
I’m proud to say that my budget establishes a $50 million State Paid Leave Fund that will provide competitive grants to help states that choose to launch paid-leave programs cover their startup costs.
My budget also provides resources to allow the Department of Labor to explore ways to improve the collection of data related to intersection of work and family responsibilities.
And we know, today more and more families are depending on working women’s wages.
Women now make up approximately half of the workforce, and our numbers are growing.
Women currently work in occupations with the highest rates of growth, such as registered nurses; child care workers; housekeepers; receptionists; customer service representatives; and home health aides and personal and home care aides.
But many women in these jobs have no access to work-life benefits, which is why reducing work-life conflict is a priority for this Administration.
Families need new workplace flexibility rules, as well as quality, affordable childcare and freedom from discrimination based on family responsibilities.
Despite changes in our work and family structures, work-life benefits are lagging and American workers and their families are paying the highest price.
One example is health care.
While about 70% of workers in private industry had access to employer provided medical care benefits in March 2009, only 25% of the lowest wage earners had such access.
Insurance premiums are unaffordable, that is why health insurance reform will help families and businesses who are being crushed by rising health costs.
That is why the House passed legislation to repeal anti trust exemption because the five major health insurance companies are raising their health insurance premium.
In addition, yesterday Health and Human Service Secretary Kathleen Sebelius asked the heads of the five major health insurance companies to meet with her and explain why their premiums are on the rise.
Besides health care, paid family leave, paid sick days, flex time are needed.
As First Lady Michelle Obama pointed out time and time again, roughly 40% of private-sector employees work at companies that don't offer a single day of paid sick leave.
For too long, we as a society have viewed work-life policies as a special benefit rather than an essential part of the workplace.
That's why the President and I support the Healthy Families Act, which would let millions of working Americans earn up to 7 paid sick days a year to care for themselves and their families.
As I said earlier, providing workplace flexibility for family and personal care giving is a key component of my vision of “Good Jobs for Everyone.”
All of the agencies at the Labor Department are involved in looking at what we can do to further this vision.
The Women’s Bureau, which is celebrating its 90th anniversary, is the only federal agency specifically tasked with improving the lives of working women.
With new leadership and increased funding, this agency will once again lead our efforts to improve the status of wage-earning women.
I’m pleased to have our new Director of the Women’s Bureau — Sara Manzano-Diaz, with us today.
The Women’s Bureau is working with businesses to create or expand workplace flexibility policies and helping women build assets through its Wise Up financial education demonstration project.
And the Bureau’s 10 regional offices held roundtables to improve women’s access to green jobs and plans to hold regional forums on work-life policies later this year.
But we’re not stopping there.
Other DOL agencies are also helping working families and promoting good jobs for women.
The Wage and Hour Division has primary enforcement responsibility for some of our nation’s most important labor laws.
The agency is especially focusing on industries that employ vulnerable workers since women in low-wage sectors are at higher risk of wage theft and other violations.
In addition, the Employment and Training Administration recently released $225 million in health care and high growth training grants.
These programs have helped provide job training for women and communities of color and will lead to employment in a range of careers.
Women like Sheila Jolley, who worked for 7 years in customer service for a publications distribution firm when her job was outsourced to Canada.
She reinvented herself and enrolled in a medical billing and coding computer program paid for by Department of Labor.
She is now a Debit Card Specialist at a health administration company with health benefits and a retirement plan.
It’s women like Emily Bearnes, who knew education was her ticket to future success.
Emily enrolled in our Job Corps program and earned her GED in 2008.
She went on to study masonry and carpentry and received certifications in first aid/CPR, and an OSHA 10 safety course in disaster response tactics.
Emily said that entering Job Corps was the best decision she ever made because it gave her an amazing gift . . . an opportunity to better her life.
I have traveled across the country, and I have heard the stories of workers and their families.
They are not looking for a hand-out; they want a hand-up.
That is exactly what America’s families need and deserve.
Which is why, the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs continues to ensure that contractors doing business with the Federal government do not discriminate against women and minorities.
Under the leadership of our new Director Pat Shiu, who is also here with me today, OFCCP plans to publish a series of proposals that will improve compliance with the laws that OFCCP enforces.
And OFCCP has literally helped tens of thousands of women who needed FMLA, as well as trade women who were hired in non-traditional industries because of OFCCP's regulations mandated female and minority hiring in the trades.
And the Office of Disability Employment Policy is conducting 6 disability employment listening sessions so that the public can provide input to senior Federal officials on their ideas for more effective ways to employ people with disabilities, particularly women, veterans and minorities.
I know that through your Working Families Policy Project, you seek to change policies important to families.
In the current economic environment, I know how challenging that can be.
Because no matter who you are work is much more than a source of income, it's a source of dignity. Work is about who and what we are.
History has shown that women have always taught us that when we work together and advocate for our ideals, we can advance our common well-being and strengthen our families, our country, and our world.
Let’s seize this moment, because now is the time to stand together.
That's the President's commitment, and it's my commitment.
I look forward to working with all of you to move our common vision forward.