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Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez
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Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery
Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis
NAACP Freedom Fund Dinner
Detroit, MI
Sunday, May 2, 2010

Good evening everyone.

Thank you Reverend Anthony for that warm introduction.

And thank you for your leadership and for your commitment to civil and human rights.

As the Secretary of Labor and as a former member of the San Gabriel Valley NAACP, it is wonderful to be here with all of you.

What an amazing event with so many exceptional leaders and advocates.

What we celebrate tonight is not simply the journey the NAACP has traveled, but the journey that we, as Americans, have traveled over the course of our history.

It was in this country where W.E.B. Du Bois — a man of immense intellect and a fierce passion for justice, sparked what became known as the Niagara movement; where reformers united, not by color, but by cause.

And where an organization was born that would promote equality and stamp out prejudice among citizens of the United States.

The founders of the NAACP understood how change would come!

They understood that unjust laws needed to be overturned; that legislation needed to be passed; and that Presidents needed to be pressured into action.

They knew that the stain of slavery and the sin of segregation had to be lifted in the courtroom, and in the legislature, and in the hearts and the minds of Americans.

They also knew that here, in America, change would have to come from the people.

And in 2008, the people made that change!

Some people are having a hard time with it, but all of us here tonight helped to usher in a change to our country.

And I'm so proud to be part of this change!

Because of you, Barack Obama is our President.

Because of you, I stand here tonight, as your Secretary of Labor.

And I'm here to say thank you.

Muchas gracias!

It is great to be in the great city of Detroit, the Motor City or as I like to call it — Motown!

The people of Detroit are proud of their city, they are fighters, and they are survivors.

This city has served as a gateway to America's interior — and facilitated a tremendous amount of industrial growth and is the motor capital of the world.

You have a rich labor history too.

Whenever the labor movement rallied, downtown Detroit was a magnet — from the big organizing rallies of the 1930's to the Labor Day parades.

Abolishing child labor, providing decent working conditions, raising wages, and helping to end poverty are the kinds of dreams that have motivated many of Detroit's labor leaders and social reformers over the decades.

And Detroit union members were among the strongest supporters of the grape and lettuce boycotts led by Cesar Chavez to bring justice to farm workers in America.

Your forefathers have also been at the forefront of many historical chapters in our country playing a key role in the Underground Railroad and the Civil Rights Movement.

Many citizens of Detroit volunteered to fight during the American Civil War.

After the war, President Lincoln is quoted as saying "Thank God for Michigan!"

And when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. marched down Woodward Ave. in June, 1963, thousands of Detroiters and union members joined him in the quest for human rights.

So let me just say... Thank you Detroit.

You know, I'm from Southern California.

I don't feel at home in just any other place.

But tonight, I have to admit that Detroit feels like home.

And let me tell you why.

I come from a union household.

My father was a shop steward for teamsters and my mother a member of the United Rubber Workers.

They fought side-by-side with their coworkers to make sure that their workplace was safe and when their shift was over they came home to their family safely.

My parents taught me to stand up for what's right, to fight injustices, and to never take no for an answer.

They taught me that there is no shame in an honest day's work and they taught me that an education was the key to future success.

Many people have influenced me, mentored me, and inspired me:

  • Martin Luther King Jr. who sparked my passion for civil and human rights;
  • Robert F. Kennedy, who renewed my faith in people;
  • Dolores Huerta who had her ribs broken in the struggle, but never her spirit;
  • Cesar Chavez, who inspired me and the world by simply saying: "Si Se Puede!" — Yes, We Can!
  • And Mary Harris "Mother" Jones, who was fought for child workers, miners, and said — pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.

I am a product of:

  • The women's movement;
  • The labor movement;
  • The civil rights movement;
  • The environmental movement; and
  • The social justice movement;

I am proud to have walked picket lines, proud to have fought for workers rights and women's rights, and I am proud and humbled to be your Labor Secretary.

These experiences are what defines me and shapes my life.

Now as Secretary of Labor my motto is Good Jobs For Everyone.

This is what I mean by a good job:

  • Jobs that can adequately support a family by increasing wages and narrowing the pay gap;
  • Jobs that are safe and secure, and give people a voice in the workplace by giving workers the right to organize and bargain collectively;
  • Jobs that are sustainable and innovative — that export products not paychecks;
  • And jobs that rebuild a strong middle class.

In this economy, that's a tall order, but that's what our President is all about, and that's what I'm all about.

Everyone in this room, and Americans all across the country, know that we are facing unprecedented economic challenges today.

The unemployment rate is 9.7%.

And for communities of color it is even more dire — African Americans 16.5%, Latinos 12.6% and for our youth it's an astounding 26%.

And in the city of Detroit, unemployment is at 16.4%.

This is unacceptable to the President and it is unacceptable to me.

While these are numbers to some, to me these are real people and families, facing real issues.

This is why it is even more important that we have an active Department of Labor advocating for the needs of working people.

Their worries, fears, and problems are the single most important focus of the Obama Administration and the Department of Labor.

Over the last year, I have traveled over thousands of miles, visiting cities and towns in 35 states.

One of my first trips was to Detroit.

I met autoworkers the day after they learned that their plant would be closing.

Their reaction to the news surprised and inspired me.

They didn't want a hand out — they just want to work.

That's the same spirit I've seen all across the country.

I've been to a factory that for years made car windshields, but has re-engineered its plant — and its workforce — to make solar panels.

I've met youth in Job Corps and with educators in community colleges that are providing registered apprenticeship training programs for young people.

I've met workers who have re-invented and re-educated themselves for 21st Century jobs.

From a woman who became a union electrician late in her career, to a former UAW member who went from the assembly line to the life line, as a nurse.

I've talked with police officers and firefighters — brave men and women who keep our communities safe.

I've met with nurses, parks department workers, and municipal street employees.

I've traveled 1,100 feet below the earth's surface to a coal mine and saw first-hand the conditions our nation's miners work under.

And, I've talked to — and listened to — not only those who work in offices during the day, but also those who clean the offices at night.

They are proud of their work and proud that they can contribute to our country in their own way.

Every one of these workers renews my belief that we will overcome the challenges we're facing right now.

This is a turning point in our nation's history.

We've been forced to take bold action to address the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, and put the brakes on the economic downturn.

Just weeks after taking office, President Obama put into motion an unprecedented effort to jumpstart our economy — the Recovery Act.

The Recovery Act was needed to help create and save millions of jobs, and put a down payment on addressing long-neglected challenges so our country can thrive in the 21st century.

However, this action helped to provide a safety net to millions of Americans.

Of the $373 billion in stimulus in the Recovery Act, almost one third was in direct tax relief to America's families.

In addition the Recovery Act provided:

  • Relief to states by giving them help to maintain Medicaid benefits -- the single largest health insurer for Black and Latino children;
  • $5 billion in funding was made available to states that could provide subsidized employment for TANF recipients; and
  • $20 billion was added to boost nutrition assistance programs, helping families buy food in these hard times.

Through the Recovery Act, we also moved immediately to protect workers who lost their jobs... and provided new worker training opportunities for those looking to upgrade their skills.

And we all know that Detroit had been hit especially hard with the near collapse of the auto industry.

Some wanted more help, and some in Washington argued for no help to the auto industry.

But the President fought to get GM and Chrysler help to restructure, with the partnership of the UAW.

Today, we can proudly say, that we are again hiring auto workers.

Since GM exited bankruptcy in early July 2009, the industry has added 45,000 jobs.

That's the fastest pace of growth in a decade.

Our auto communities and workers across the country still need assistance finding new jobs, promoting growth in their businesses and supporting families.

That is why it is important now more than ever that we have an active Department of Labor.

To help workers through these challenging times we helped ease the burden of the recession by:

  • Distributing $2.8 billion to 32 states for Unemployment Insurance Modernization incentive payments;
  • More workers, including part-timers, and people upgrading their skills were eligible for unemployment insurance for the very first time.
  • We served more than 2.3 million workers through state employment-related services; and
  • Awarded over $101 million in National Emergency Grants. Nearly $59 million was released in 2009, providing services to an estimated 28,000 dislocated workers.

Now, as we help workers through these tough times, our real focus is investing in their future.

I am proud to say that we have:

  • Provided $114 million to community groups across the nation to provide education and training to young people;
  • Provided funding for projects that employed over 317,000 summer youth, exceeding the goal of 250,000; and I need your help to get funding for money this summer to hire our youth!
  • We have awarded $720 million in grants for career training in clean energy, health care and high tech jobs;
  • We awarded $150 million in "Pathways Out of Poverty" grants that will make it possible for persons who are living below or near the poverty level; are unemployed; are high school dropouts; or have a criminal record to find employment in green industries.

And I recently made $90 million in Recovery Act funding available for an On-the-Job Training National Emergency Grant.

These grants will help create job-specific skills training and permanent employment opportunities for dislocated workers and focus on populations with the greatest barriers to re-employment and areas with high levels of poverty.

And I'm proud to say that the Department of Labor has invested over $384 million to help meet the needs of workers in Michigan.

Now, our critics say that we are wasting tax-payer money and that jobs are not being created.

Well, that's simply not true and I'll give you proof.

Countless businesses — both small and large — have said they avoided layoffs thanks to the Recovery Act.

To date, more than 30,000 Recovery Act initiatives, such as: health care centers, transportation projects, and military facility upgrades have been approved.

And over 2 million jobs have been created or saved by the Recovery Act.

State and local governments have been able to keep police officers, firefighters, and teachers on the job because of the Recovery Act.

And I want to be very clear on this point; everyone must benefit from what we are doing.

That means communities of color, youth, veterans, workers with disabilities, and women, participate in these new opportunities.

My philosophy is: It's not a good job unless it's a safe job.

The government has a fundamental responsibility to protect workers from unsafe work places and from unjust labor practices.

We are focused on workers — not voluntary programs and alliances.

We are serious about workplace protection and safety.

And as I said on my first day on the job — the Department of Labor is back in the enforcement business.

Just last week, a miner was killed on the job at the Pocahontas Mine in West Virginia, a subway worker was electrocuted in New York, and a driller was killed while working on a gas well drilling site in Sycamore, Pennsylvania.

Add 29 miners killed at the Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia, the 11 presumed dead in the oil rig explosion south of Louisiana, and the 7 deaths in a refinery fire in Washington State — all in the month of April.

Each day 14 workers die in our country. That means more than 5,000 people are killed on the job each year.

This must stop!

No paycheck is worth a life, and no quest for profit should ever be allowed to circumvent our law.

So wherever workers are in danger, the Department of Labor will act decisively.

Since I took office:

  • 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 took regulatory action to ensure that workers have the information they need to make a free choice regarding union representation.

And we are also looking at proactive ways to help workers.

In March, the Wage and Hour Division launched a multilingual "We Can Help" outreach campaign targeting worker populations and industries in which workers are reluctant to report violations and concerns.

And a few weeks ago, OSHA held a major worker safety and health summit to address the concerns of vulnerable workers in low wage, high hazard industries, like construction and janitorial work.

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.

My friends, we continue to face many challenges.

One is the growing racial tension in our country.

I understand there may be a temptation among some to think that discrimination is no longer a problem in 2010.

And so the question is, where do we direct our efforts? What steps do we take to overcome these barriers?

I believe that the first thing we need to do is to make the words of the NAACP charter a reality and eradicate prejudice, bigotry, and discrimination among citizens of the United States.

But make no mistake: discrimination is very real in America.

It is real when an African American woman only earns 68 cents for every dollar earned by a man.

It is real for Latinos who now feel unwelcome in their own country.

We are reminded that Dr. King called for fairness in policing,

"There are those who are asking devotees of civil rights, "When will you be satisfied?

As a country, and as Americans, we cannot be satisfied if states pass laws to push police to racially profiling.

That is why people were protesting yesterday in the tradition of Dr King's call; and you in the NAACP continue the leadership on ending racial profiling in all its forms.

And this is why we need comprehensive immigration reform to stop profiling workers on their jobs.

I know that all of us in this room agree that prejudice has no place in the United States of America.

And this Administration is working to tear down the walls of discrimination and lay a new foundation for growth and prosperity.

At the Department of Labor we are providing grants to community based organizations for job training that target African-Americans, Latino's, Asians, and women.

We are investing in programs that provide youth offenders and high-school dropouts with job skills training and a second chance at life.

We are investing in our returning veterans by providing job programs for homeless women veterans and counseling for their families.

But perhaps the biggest pillar of our new foundation is one that all of you in here helped us to achieve and that is — health insurance reform!

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.

No longer will working families have to worry that their child will be denied coverage because of a pre-existing condition... or that a pink slip followed by an illness will result in bankruptcy.

I think you know that you have a friend 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 get some of these big pieces done — 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.

And when the going gets tough, friends work together and stay focused on our common goals.

And that's why we'll continue fighting for you... because we want to provide Americans with jobs that grow our middle class; jobs with good wages and benefits; and jobs that aren't just a source of income, but a source of pride and self-respect.

I think back to a quote from the late great civil rights pioneer Dorothy Height.

She said, "We cannot afford to be separate... We have to see that all of us are in the same boat."

This quote was relevant 50 years ago, as it is today.

We are bound together by this great country.

We must work with one another in order to usher in the change that we all believe in.

Do you believe we can?

Yes We Can... Si Se Puede!

Thank you. God Bless You and God Bless the United States of America.