Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis
Remarks as Prepared for Delivery
Alliance for Retired Americans National Convention
Las Vegas, NV
April 5, 2010
It's so wonderful to be here.
Thank you, Barbara, for that warm introduction.
It's always a pleasure to be with my good friend, Barbara Easterling.
She is a trailblazer and an advocate and champion for working men and women.
She is also a woman who has broken down many barriers in her career as the first woman ever to serve in the Communications Workers of America's second highest office that of secretary-treasurer.
I want to recognize another strong female labor leader AFL-CIO Secretary/Treasurer Liz Shuler for her leadership and hard work.
I want to thank the Alliance's Secretary/Treasurer Ruben Banks, Vice President Judy Cato and Executive Director Edward Coyle for their dedication to supporting the quality of life that seniors have worked so hard to attain.
I also want to also thank Senator Harry Reid, who will be speaking later today.
Senator Reid has been a champion on issues that matter to you and all Americans.
He was a real leader in making health insurance reform become law!
Senator Reid has also been a champion of working men and women.
He has been a key supporter of my department and has helped us get the resources we need to provide for more pension and retirement protections.
I am proud to say that the members of the Alliance and I have a history of working together.
I have worked with many of you, when I was a member of the House, on the prescription drug bill.
We also worked together to defeat the previous administration's proposal of privatizing social security!
And I want to thank you for your work in helping us to get health insurance reform passed!
Because of your work, more than 32 million people will now be covered by health insurance.
Pre-existing conditions cannot be the basis to deny relief to those who need it most.
These reforms also include the largest health care tax cut for working families and small businesses in history.
And this bill will help my father, and so many others like him, by closing the Medicare Part D donut hole!
Being here reminds me of why I am so humbled to be your Labor Secretary.
I grew up in a union home that taught me the value of a hard day's work.
A home that also taught me to lend a hand to your neighbor when they are in need.
And a home that taught me to stand up for injustices in my community and in the workplace.
These are the values that drive me and are the guiding principles of my work!
Like generations before them, my parents worked hard, so that their children would have a better life and one day join the middle class.
It was the middle class … all of you in this room … that powered American industries and propelled America's economy.
However, today many Americans are facing unprecedented economic challenges.
Their worries, fears and problems are the single most important focus of President Obama and of mine.
And as we help workers through these challenging times, we are working to protect the health of their retirement security.
And leading these efforts for the Department of Labor is one of your former board members and an advocate for workers Phyllis Borzi!
I'm so happy to have her leading the Employee Benefits Security Administration.
Today's retirement system has changed over the years.
No longer can you count on a lifetime stream of retirement income.
The private pension system in this country has provided unprecedented retirement security for millions of American workers but millions of others are still left out. ERISA added critically important protections for workers and their families, but the system has also let down too many workers over the years.
Today, American workers are at risk:
- They're at risk that their pension and health plans won't be there when they need them most, and
- They're at risk because they have been put in charge of investing their own pension assets and now risk that their investment choices will provide inadequate retirement savings for them.
I think it's time to think of new ways to encourage employers to provide pensions for their workers and new types of pensions that do not put the full investment responsibility on workers.
That is why we are working with the Treasury Department to determine how best to enhance the retirement security in employer-sponsored retirement plans and in individual retirement arrangements by facilitating access to a lifetime stream of income at retirement.
We are also committed to expanding participant protections. Among our priorities are:
- Improving 401(k) plans by improving fee transparency;
- Rooting out conflicts of interest;
- Increasing access to sound unbiased investment advice; and
- Trying to increase pension plan participation rates.
We must also protect existing and future plan participants so that they will be able to enjoy a secure retirement…free of economic anxiety.
We have made this a priority by pursuing an aggressive enforcement strategy.
We are beefing up our existing enforcement efforts against employers who withhold your 401(k) and health plan contributions, but fail to forward them to the appropriate destination.
Instead they use your money to pay for their business expenses.
That is going to end… enforcement is not only our responsibility, it is our moral obligation!
This August we celebrate the 75th anniversary of Social Security.
The Obama Administration recognizes that Social Security is crucial to workers and seniors.
And it is probably the most important and most successful programs that our country has ever enacted.
Millions of seniors and their families have been lifted out of poverty because of Social Security, and two-thirds of beneficiaries depend on Social Security for more than half of their income.
I want you to know that you have an ally on this issue… because I am a member of the Social Security Trustees Board.
I am committed to making sure your voices are heard and that Social Security is solvent for the American people, now and in the future.
You all have a friend actually you have a lot of friends at the Labor Department.
I am proud of what we have done in our first year and I know we have much more to do.
It takes a while to undo the damage from the previous administration and it takes awhile because we need to get it right but that's exactly what this Administration is doing.
That's why, when the going gets tough, friends need to work together and stay focused on our common goals – just like we did on health care.
Just because you're retired doesn't mean you're not working to make sure that you, your children and grandchildren have a better future.
And I promise that I'll continue working for you as well!
So, what do you say… let's roll up our sleeves and get to work. We still have much more to do!
Thank you for this opportunity and I look forward to working with the Alliance.