Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis
Remarks as Prepared for Delivery
National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Gala
Gala Theme: "A Legacy of Public Service"
San Antonio, Texas
July 13, 2010
Thank you John Quiñones for your kind welcome and it's very nice to see you!
Good evening NCLR! Buenas tardes!
I would like to acknowledge:
- Your President and CEO, my friend Janet Murguia;
- And, your Board Chair, Daniel Ortega...
- Also, please allow me to send my greetings to the 300 plus NCLR affiliate community-based organizations across the nation!
It's wonderful to spend time with all of you today.
You, the members, the participants are making this wonderful organization expand more, year after year.
It's inspiring to say that today NCLR is in 41 states, and Puerto Rico... and the District of Columbia.
NCRL is everywhere!
That means that in virtually every part of this country, there are organizations that work for the advancement of our familias.
Many of the leaders here in this room work tirelessly to continue expanding the NCLR mission.
You are helping improve the opportunities for Latinos in your community.
You and I share that passion and commitment to help better the lives of people, especially the most economically disadvantaged.
As former President John F. Kennedy said, "the struggle against the common enemies of mankind are tyranny, poverty, disease and war itself."
Poverty is certainly one of the enemies or challenges we struggle to help overcome.
For more than 20 years, I have been determined to help the working class achieve a little more.
And I'm not shy about sharing that this fight has even put me against big industries such as the oil, gas, and waste companies... and many of my battles have been against other politicians.
When I wanted to raise the minimum wage from $4.25 to $5.75 in California in 1994, the bill was very close to passing but the governor vetoed it in the end.
But I did not quit, until I made sure the initiative was on the ballot and successfully becoming a law in 1995.
Soon other states would follow.
Easier said than done!
Or, when I introduced SB 1113 in 1997, a bill that would protect the health of low-income and minority communities against toxic chemicals being polluted in their neighborhood big money industries opposed this bill and after so much work, the bill was rejected.
However, I was relentless... with an uphill battle it wasn't until 1999 that the bill passed as SB 115.
It would be the first of its kind environmental justice legislation in U.S. history -- and I would be the first female ever to be recognized for my courage to stand for the less fortunate people with the Profile in Courage Award by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation.
And that's just a few of the encounters I've faced as I try to do stand up for what I feel is right and just.
There's no secret to why and how I do what I do.
The answer is simple:
I had a humble upbringing and I was raised by wonderful parents who taught me the meaning of dignity, love and respect.
My father will proudly tell you he was a laborer, a farmworker and a railroad worker.
The personal experiences I grew up witnessing and learning about... were the things that shaped my life.
Not to mention my mentors, my heroes, and my roles models...
All of that came into play and led me to be the first in my family to go to college.
So today, more than 20 years as your public servant because that's who I am... I now have a fancy title, but I am still your public servant and my mission remains the same to help improve lives of everyday people.
So I have the same goals as you do.
And at the moment we have a lot of work ahead.
From immigration, to education to jobs... and so much more.
Our Latino community needs us. Not just me, all of us here.
Latino families across the country are directly affected by the current broken immigration system.
History once again repeats itself.
In the past, other ethnic races migrated here and at this time, Latinos happen to be the largest wave of immigrants entering the United States.
In former President Bill Clinton's words:
"More than any other nation on Earth, America has constantly drawn strength and spirit from wave after wave of immigrants. In each generation, they have proved to be the most restless, the most adventurous, the most innovative, the most industrious of people. Bearing different memories, honoring heritages, they have strengthened our economy, enriched our culture, renewed our promise of freedom and opportunity for all!"
You know what Albert Einstein, Celia Cruz, and Bob Hope have in common?
They were all born in other parts of the world, and became naturalized U.S. citizens.
Our economy has flourished economically, educationally, artistically and culturally by the wave of immigrants.
And contrary to what some proponents of the Arizona law believe, immigrants and their children give the U.S. workforce an important competitive advantage in the international economy.
In large part, due to our foreign-born population, the U.S. has relatively more workers per retiree than most of our major trading partners.
Over the long-term, tax revenues generated by immigrants will exceed the cost of the services they use.
Many of you know of President Barack Obama's commitment to make comprehensive immigration reform a reality.
There is one problem right now, and you and I can work together on this to help pass this needed reform.
The current dilemma we face is that the 11 Republican Senators that signed on to the 2006 immigration bill, today refuse to engage in this conversation.
In case, you want to know who they are, I'm talking about:
Senator Bennett, Brownback, Collins, Graham, Gregg, Lugar, McCain, McConnell, Murkowski, Snowe and Voinovich.
The President, myself, many Democrats and many of you here today are ready to move forward... but we need to work together to be able to bring everyone to the table and pass a bill.
This country is heading in the right direction.
We are moving forward not backwards.
Our economy is slowly recuperating... it's not where we wish it could be right now, but progress is being made.
Just last week, President Obama announced that American exports grew almost 17% over the first four months of this year compared to the same period last year.
When millions of Americans are still looking for work, boosting our exports is a short-term imperative because it leads to job growth and economic growth.
The President said he wants to see American exports double over the next five years and renegotiate long-stalled free trade agreements with Panama and Colombia.
So business men and women, this is your calling... get involved and incorporated in this new economy.
At the Department of Labor, we are all hands-on... investing and helping train for jobs of a very near future -- Green Jobs.
The money is going to various groups... to communities working with individuals who are living below or near the poverty level know as "Pathways Out of Poverty"
Recipients of these funds include NCLR, which is investing $3 million in Chicago, San Jose and San Diego, including a focus on individuals with limited English proficiency.
And earlier this month I announced an additional $125 million in Community-Based Job Training grants to 26 states and 41 community colleges and organizations across the nation.
These grants will create opportunities for Latinos, African-Americans, women, veterans and individuals with disabilities to train for high-demand occupations with the help of our national community college system.
There are a number of tax incentives this Administration created to help businesses get back on their feet and once again hire and invest in equipment.
But providing relief and assistance for working families and businesses is only part of our work.
Another thing we rarely talk about in the Latino community is our retirement plan.
Just so you know the Department of Labor will work with NCLR members to help you plan for your retirement; we are calling this program, "Como Revolver el Misterio de la Planificacion," "How to Resolve the Mystery of Planning."
Those are just some of the many opportunities available to you and your family.
Since I took office, the Department of Labor operates under the phrase: "good and safe jobs for everyone."
Every day in this country, more than 14 workers lose their lives in preventable workplace tragedies 5,000 a year, every year.
The reality is, Latino workers suffer and die on the job at a greater rate while doing the hardest, most unhealthy, most dangerous jobs.
Most don't know they have rights under the laws of our nation.
Most are untrained in addressing workplace hazards and many face discrimination because of language barriers.
That is why I have hired an additional 710 investigators, with an emphasis on bilingual staff.
And I have directed the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to conduct Safety Seminars across the country, focusing on reducing injuries and illnesses among Latino workers.
And while we are focused on safety for our communities and workers, we are also working to ensure that they are paid for their hard work!
In April, we launched the We Can Help Campaign "Podemos Ayudar."
This public awareness program informs workers of their labor rights, and encourages them regardless of immigration status to report violations of wage and hour laws that occur on the job.
Now, I have taken some heat for this program... there are people who think that we should not be helping workers who are here illegally fight for their wages.
Let me be very clear... We will not tolerate those employers who are breaking our nation's labor laws and prey on vulnerable workers especially during these tough economic times.
And whether our critics like it or not... every worker in this country, regardless of their legal status, is protected by our laws to be paid for their work... and I will enforce the law!
I want to help create a better life for all of you here, and for all of those who are not here.
Ladies and gentleman, let's work together for a better future for everyone in our community.
Together, we can leave "A legacy of Public Service."
The doors at the Department of Labor are open for you; I welcome you.
NCRL, thank you for having me here today.
Thank you everyone!
Si Se Puede!