Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis
Remarks as Prepared for Delivery
DOL Cesar Chavez Celebration
Department of Labor, Washington, D.C.
March 31, 2010
Thank you Mary Beth for the introduction and for organizing this wonderful event.
Thank you Father Kiley for those inspirational words – Cesar’s faith was a driving force in his life as it is for so many of us who commit ourselves to this work
Thank you ALL for being here – there are too many labor and civil rights leaders to name today – of course Rich Trumka and Artie Rodriguez who will speak this morning.
I want to thank my good friend Arlene Holt Baker, and I see Joe Hansen of UFCW and Dennis Van Roekel of NEA and Ron Gettelfinger of the UAW – and so many friends from the Building Trades.
Thank you to all of the union presidents who have joined us this morning and a special welcome to Milton Rosado and our friends from LCLAA
Thank you to the many civil rights and community leaders and farmworker advocates who have joined us this morning – I want to thank our student activists for joining us today – you are not just our future you are leaders right now!
I am so pleased to have so many members of the Cesar Chavez family with us today – what a thrill it will be to join President Obama at the White House this afternoon to honor Cesar Chavez
And a special thanks to our friends from the Hill and from the Administration – our sister agencies and especially Cecilia Muñoz and Patrick Gaspard – for the incredible work you do every day.
Thank you to the dedicated staff here at DOL who make not just this event, but the victories we celebrate today possible – I am so proud of my team.
Welcome – Good morning – Buenos Dias.
You know in this Department of Labor we believe in more than just one Labor Day!
Let me thank all of you for your hard work in helping President Obama and all of us win a historic victory last week – passing Health Care reform!
Because of your hard work more than 32 million people will now be covered by health insurance, and pre-existing conditions cannot be the basis to deny aid to those who need it most.
These reforms will also bring down health care costs for American workers, their families and small businesses, by expanding coverage to millions of Americans and ends the worst practices of insurance companies – and it begins to do so this year!
And this bill will help my father and so many others like him by closing the Medicare Part D donut hole.
Thank you all for your support and more importantly, for helping us to usher in the change the American people need and deserve!
We are here to today, to commemorate the life of an American hero – Cesar Chavez.
He was one of our nation’s strongest advocates for social justice, a champion for civil rights and a labor leader.
He serves as an inspiration to me and to so many others.
He believed that the men and women who bring us the food we depend on deserve a safe work environment and a fair wage and challenged all Americans to recognize their plight and to stand with them.
And as the Secretary of Labor it is my duty to ensure that all workers are treated fairly, with dignity and respect.
Recognizing that Cesar Chavez’s priorities are not so different from what the Department of Labor strives to do everyday…including providing a safe and secure work environment, help train workers for the jobs of the 21st century and protect workers rights regardless of their legal status.
That is why under my administration workers rights are being protected by the bolstering of our enforcement staff by 710 investigators, inspectors and other program staff.
And so far, we have already seen the fruits of our efforts, for example:
- OSHA issued the largest fine in its history – $87 million to British Petroleum – sending a strong message that we will not tolerate neglect of worker safety and health;
- We recovered more than $171 million in back wages for workers – and we’re just getting started!.
- We included $25 million in our budget for a new initiative on Misclassification to ensure workers are properly classified and restore protections for employees classified improperly.
- We know a Good Job means a voice at work and the freedom to form a union and we are working to ensure that; and
We should also celebrate this week President Obama making 2 wonderful recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board!
We are also looking at proactive ways to help workers.
I am proud to announce that from April 14-15, OSHA is holding a major worker safety and health summit to address the concerns of vulnerable Latino workers in low wage, high hazard industries, such as construction.
And tomorrow in Chicago, I will announce a new multilingual program, which will be spearheaded by the Wage and Hour Division.
We are launching the “We Can Help” outreach campaign targeting worker populations and industries in which workers are reluctant to report violations and concerns.
And I would like to take a moment to show you one of our public service announcements for the campaign. Please take a look.
While we are pleased with these results, there is still much more work to do to protect workers and to work collaboratively with business – because an injustice to one worker is an injustice to all workers.
This is why the Department of Labor recently announced a new rule regarding temporary agriculture worker program, also known as H2A.
The new rule will make it possible for all those who are working hard on American soil to get a fair pay while at the same time expand opportunities for U.S. workers.
And workers rights – regardless of legal status — have been a core principal that the Department of Labor and Chavez have in common.
As an enforcement agency the Department of Labor will now exercise its authority to certify applications for U Visas, which are designed the most vulnerable workers in our society.
These are workers that suffer physical or mental abuse, are victims of rape and sadly, have nowhere to turn.
So, starting this summer our investigators will be looking to identify potential U Visa applicants as they conduct workplace investigations.
This action will help local law enforcement rescue vulnerable immigrants from suffering and help put criminals behind bars.
People like the woman I met at in California that used to work in a car wash – her name is Marisol.
Marisol worked at a carwash for ten hours a day for $35.
She worked long hours under the sun and was often forced to go without water or lunch breaks.
She was subjected to intense sexual harassment by a manager at the carwash, and was later physically and verbally intimidated.
This brave woman left the carwash and because of her actions, the Los Angeles City Attorney has filed criminal charges against Vermont Car Wash which Marisol is part of and cooperating.
I also want to tell you the story of Manuel Zuniga, who is here with us today.
Just like Marisol, Manuel worked at a car wash, enduring long hours and was denied drinking water and lunch breaks for 3 ½ years!
Because of the injustices he experienced, he is now actively organizing other car washers fearing retribution from his employer.
Manuel your courage is inspiring and I thank you!
Cesar Chavez did not rest on his accomplishments – he called all of us to do more.
We all must take a stand against this injustice – right now these workers do not have a right to organize, but standing together we can change that.
Our work is certainly not done – especially when we have 12 million immigrant workers and their families stuck in a no-man’s land, living in the shadows of our country…undermining all US workers.
That is why we need Comprehensive Immigration Reform and we need all of your help to do this.
Let me close by sharing a story of some young people I met at Las Artes Youth and Education Center in Tucson, Arizona.
This center is a grantee of the Department of Labor and for years has been supported by two great Congressional leaders – Rep. Ed Pastor and Rep. Raul Grijalva.
Las Artes youth program combines art and education to enrich the lives of at-risk youth.
I was so impressed by the dedication of these young people and the artwork that they do that they sent this contribution for us to honor Cesar Chavez EVERYDAY here at the Labor Department.
Isn’t it beautiful?
When I saw it, I was so moved and inspired by the work of these young men and women.
The artwork of the students at Las Artes will be permanently displayed at the Department of Labor as a reminder of Cesar Chavez’s life and his work.
I think that it is only appropriate that I end my remarks by quoting my sister, my comadre and mentor – Dolores Huerta with these famous words….Si Se Puede!