Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis
Remarks by Secretary Hilda L. Solis
UAW 35th Convention
Cobo Hall, Detroit, MI
June 17, 2010
Good morning UAW!
Thank you Jim (Wells) for that kind introduction.
And congratulations to you (Bob) King for your successful transition to President of the UAW.
Your work over the years has proven your dedication to working families and the men and women of the UAW.
I look forward to working with you and the members of your team.
I would also like to take this opportunity to recognize and thank Ron Gettelfinger for his years of service.
Ron started his union involvement in 1964 in Louisville, Kentucky, at the Louisville Assembly Plant run by Ford Motor Company while working as a chassis line repairman.
And the rest... as we say is history.
He has been a champion and warrior for one of America's most important and influential unions
And over the past few years, Ron has steered his members through a period of drastic job cuts, plant closures and financial hardship.
He is an outspoken advocate for working families, health care for all Americans, and he has criticized the corporate global chase for the lowest wage, which creates a race to the bottom that no workers, in any country, can win.
Please join me in congratulating President Gettelfinger for his years of service and for his much-deserved retirement.
I must confess that it feels great to be out of Washington, D.C. and to be with all of you in Detroit.
From its earliest days, the UAW has been a leader in the struggle to secure economic and social justice for all people.
The UAW has been actively involved in the struggle for civil rights, women's rights, voting rights, and the Fair Housing Act.
Today, you are fighting for better schools for our kids, pensions for retirees, clean air and water, tougher workplace health and safety standards, stronger worker's compensation and unemployment insurance laws and fairer taxes.
And you were instrumental in helping us get health insurance reform passed!
Because of your efforts, millions of Americans and their families will no longer be denied coverage because pre-existing conditions.
This bill will help my father and other seniors by closing the Medicare Part D donut hole.
These are issues that I have fought for my entire career.
You see, like many of you I come from a union home.
My parents showed me the value of a hard day's work... they taught me to fight against injustices in the workplace and in my community.
I am proud to be the daughter of a Teamster Shop Steward and a Steel Worker.
I am proud to have walked the picket line, proud to have fought for workers and women's rights, and I am proud and humbled to be your Labor Secretary.
I don't have to tell you that there were and unfortunately still are millions of workers and their families struggling in one of the most difficult economic situations that our nation has confronted.
The Great Recession, as some are calling it, had a severe impact on far too many families across the country.
But, thanks to President Obama, he pushed for the Recovery Act, which helped us gain 431,000 jobs last and lowered the unemployment rate from 10% to 9.7%.
This marks the fifth straight month that we have had job growth.
Since the beginning of the year, private firms have added close to half a million workers with 126,000 jobs added in the manufacturing sector, the most since 1998.
But, we recognize more work has to be done to ensure every American that wants a job has access to a good job.
As the President said, "This will not be a real recovery until people can feel it in their own lives".
Their worries, fears, and problems are the focus of this Administration and at the Department of Labor.
That's who I am fighting for everyday!
Since my first day in office, I have been traveling the across country meeting with working families and listening to their stories.
One of my very first meetings was with auto workers the day after they learned their plant was closing.
These proud workers didn't want a hand-out, they wanted hand-up... and at the Department of Labor that's exactly what we're doing:
- We have made $220 million available to help dislocated workers transition into new high-growth sectors allied health;
- We have invested $500 million for green job training with many of our grantees partnering with the UAW across the country;
- We have distributed $114 million to community groups across the nation to provide education and training to young people for careers in clean and renewable energy, health care, and information technology; and
- We've also extended unemployment insurance eligibility, with $7 billion available in Unemployment Insurance modernization funds.
We continue to push for programs to help unemployed workers make it through this difficult time.
Extending expiring unemployment benefits and health coverage is vital.
And just like all of you, I have called upon Congress to extend the Unemployment Insurance and COBRA subsidy provisions in the Recovery Act through the end of the year.
And just as the President recognized that our financial system must be stabilized and the economy needed to be jump started, he recognized that the auto industry was absolutely integral to the economic health of this country.
The President felt that we could not just stand by and hope for the best when it came to GM and Chrysler.
But we were not prepared to invest tax payer money unless there was a feasible path to success.
This required long overdue reforms with painful sacrifices from workers, retirees, bondholders, and every other stakeholder, but would allow for fair compensation for taxpayers.
While this was a big risk, we have seen GM and Chrysler go into and emerge from bankruptcy faster than anyone believed possible -- and for the first time in some years, operating at a profit.
General Motors has repaid the full balance on its $6.7 billion loan!
Last summer, President Obama reaffirmed his commitment to helping those affected by the auto industry and established the White House Council on Automotive Communities and Workers, of which I am the Co-Chair.
The Council is responsible for ensuring that the full resources and expertise of the federal government are deployed to help lessen the impacts on communities, workers, and auto suppliers and to work with them to rebuild for the future.
While auto communities need a strong auto industry, they also need both short term support and long term investments that will create other sources of jobs whether in green manufacturing, health care, or other high growth sectors.
At the Department of Labor, we are taking steps to help American workers retain, train and prepare for future jobs.
We have ensured that our existing programs meet the needs of laid-off auto workers.
We have set aside funds for auto communities in several of our Recovery Act competitions, to foster creative responses such as:
- $4 million State Labor Market Information Improvement Grant;
- $28 million in green jobs training grants; and
- Over $50 million in National Emergency Grants targeted to auto workers in Michigan, Ohio, Delaware, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.
In the last 15 months the Department of Labor has invested more than $843 million in services for workers in Michigan, Ohio and Indiana.
And in California, you all fought the good fight to keep that NUMMI plant open, and I supported you.
And what I was prepared to do as Secretary of Labor was to make sure that we were ready to get the workers at NUMMI all the tools they needed to thrive.
I was just out there a couple of weeks ago to announce another grant to support the NUMMI workers and to tour the Re-Employment Center that the UAW is operating.
I'm so impressed with your members and your leadership who have worked hand-in-hand to make sure that these NUMMI workers get the support they and their families deserve to transition to good jobs.
And I was so pleased to see that Tesla, made the good strategic decision to resume production in that NUMMI plant... because it's not just a state-of-the-art facility, it's a state-of-the-art workforce!
And the Tesla CEO has said it himself... that it is a priority to hire the highly-skilled and highly-productive NUMMI workers.
And while we remain focused on helping auto communities build themselves again, we have seen that the Recovery Act has also KEPT Americans working.
The Recovery Act has provided vital support to states and local communities to keep school teachers in classrooms, police officers on the beat, and health care workers on the job as well as investing in infrastructure and other projects.
Private sector forecasts and the CBO say the Recovery Act not only helped GDP stop falling, but has also added to positive growth for the last three quarters and brought employment growth in 6 of the last 7 months.
But creating and maintaining jobs is only part of the Obama agenda.
My philosophy is: It's not a good job unless it's a SAFE and SECURE JOB.
Workplace enforcement and safety is not only our responsibility, IT'S OUR MORAL OBLIGATION.
Which means... the Department of Labor is back in the enforcement business.
Every day in this country, 14 workers lose their lives in preventable workplace tragedies.
That adds up to 5,000 people who lose their lives on the job.
Some people say it's just a fact of life and some jobs are dangerous.
But this is the 21st century, and no worker should have to lose his or her life for a paycheck.
To show my commitment, we have hired 710 investigators, inspectors, and other program staff, returning our worker protection efforts to a level not seen since 2001.
So far, our enforcement efforts have:
- Recovered more than $137.6 million in back wages for approximately 175,000 workers;
- Received a jury verdict against one of the nation's largest poultry producers for violating the Fair Labor Standards Act, resulting in back wage awards;
- Issued the largest fine in the history of OSHA and inspected workplaces where 5.4 million people are employed and provided 34,000 individuals with assistance and information;
- We have obtained 17 indictments under the Employee Contributions Project, recovering over $24 million for workers; and
- We took regulatory action to ensure that workers have the information they need to make a free choice regarding union representation.
At the Department of Labor we are focused on workers not voluntary programs.
That is why we have launched a new outreach campaign called "We Can Help" or "Podemos Ayudar."
This campaign will target workers in industries like, construction, meat-packing, restaurants, and home health care.
We are informing them of their rights and encouraging them regardless of immigration status to report violations of wage and hour laws that occur on the job.
I'm also proud to say that the campaign will be in multiple languages.
The need for enforcement and oversight can no longer be regulated to the snail pace of the past!
It is the right time to lift up workers rights and make this situation better.
Workers have the right to know what a safe workplace looks like and what hazards they are facing.
So, we are also conducting seminars across the country on worker safety and health to address the concerns of vulnerable workers in low wage, high hazard industries... because, a safe job is fundamental to the dignity of every human being.
As the recovery of our economy takes hold we have a duty and an opportunity to ensure all workers are kept from preventable injuries and death on the job.
After all, no nation does or should get ahead at the peril of its workers.
However, it's not enough to have fair wages and a safe workplace workers also need a voice on the job!
Some people say that given the state of the economy, we can't afford unions right now.
They've got it backwards. Today, unions are more important than ever.
I say this all the time Good Jobs for Everyone includes a voice at work which is why I was a Co-Sponsor of the Employee Free Choice Act.
Make no mistake; you've got a White House and a Labor Department that is working for you.
You've got an Administration keeping its promises to working people.
So we're going to keep up every effort to rebuild our economy and restore some security for the middle class.
We're going to make sure that your workplace is safe, that you get paid for the work you do, and that you have the tools to compete in the 21st Century economy.
And as long as I have the privilege of being Labor Secretary, I'm going to keep fighting for a future that is brighter for members of the UAW, and for all workers in this country.
Because, at the end of the day we don't have to accept a situation we cannot bear... we can change it.
And change it we have and change it we will.
Thank you all for your work.
Thank you for your support.
May God bless you all.