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

Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis
University of Texas at Austin
Ray Marshall Policy Center
Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Thank you Secretary Marshall for that warm and kind introduction.

It is truly an honor to be here.

I want to thank Secretary Marshall for asking me to join him today in celebrating the 40th Anniversary of the Ray Marshall Center.

As you all know, Secretary Marshall used to have my job in the Carter administration.

His work and leadership at the Department of Labor continues to drive what we do every day.

From expanding public service employment and job training programs... to moving the Mine Safety and Health Administration into the Labor Department, Secretary Marshall was a champion for working men and women.

Thank you Secretary Marshall for your service and dedication to our country's workers.

I want to thank former Secretary of Labor Alexis Herman for joining us today as well.

Secretary Herman is a pioneering woman and the first African-American Labor Secretary in our nation's history.

I would also like to thank Secretary Brock for being with us today.

Secretary Brock served as Labor Secretary in the Reagan administration, where he led initiative to help improve employment for Vietnam era veterans.

Today we are here to reflect on the work that Secretary Ray Marshall has done over his truly illustrious career.

I also want to take a moment to recognize Cristina Tzintzun — Executive Director of the Workers Defense Project, who is with us today.

Her organization produced a groundbreaking report Building Austin, "Building Injustice" which highlighted widespread safety violations taking place at Texas construction sites.

Their work lead OSHA to undertake an enforcement sweep in the area.

I'm happy to say that Cristina's organization is a recipient of a 2010 Susan Harwood Capacity building grant to conduct outreach and education through a train-the-trainer program for vulnerable workers in high risk industries.

We look forward to our partnership and thank Cristina and the Workers Defense Project for their work.

When you get to know Secretary Marshall, the first question you ask yourself is — "What has this man not done?"

You see, his life could have taken a much different path.

At the age of 11, he and his four siblings were sent to live in a Mississippi orphanage after their mother passed away.

He dropped out of school in the eighth and at age 15 he joined the Navy and served in the Pacific during World War II.

After the war, Secretary Marshall went to college with assistance from the G.I. Bill.

He received a B.A. in economics and business administration went on to earn a master's degree from Louisiana State University and a Ph.D. in economics from the University of California at Berkeley.

His early work focused on comparative labor movements, which led to research in Finland as a Fulbright Scholar and as a Wertheim Fellow at Harvard University.

In 1962, he came to The University of Texas at Austin where he further specialized on issues that would guide the remainder of his career — jobs creation, discrimination in employment, reform in education, job training, poverty prevention, and immigration.

And in June 1970, he formed the Center for the Study of Human Resources, which was later renamed in his honor.

I tell you all of this because Secretary Marshall has always looked to improve the lives of workers and their families.

He pulled himself up from a difficult situation and achieved what we all call the American Dream.

Just like Secretary Marshall, I too faced many barriers growing up.

I am the daughter of immigrant parents. I come from very humble beginnings.

My parents were the rock of my family's foundation and they showed us every day what that if you work hard, if you are honest, and you treat others the way you want to be treated, then you will be successful in life.

They also understood that an education was vital to our success.

I was told by a high school counselor that I was not college material — that perhaps I could be a secretary. — I became a secretary all right — Secretary of Labor. I love to tell that story!

Today I stand here as the first Latina Presidential Cabinet member and the first Latino or Latina Secretary of Labor.

And I believe as many of you do, that there is power in connecting our own personal stories to for social justice and for good public policy.

From my work as a student recruiter in California, to my work as a California State Senator, from the halls of Congress to my office at the Labor Department... I draw on these experiences to guide me.

And I think that all of these experiences — much like during the time when Secretary Marshall served — are especially critical during this moment in our nation's history.

We have an urgent economic crisis for working people in this country.

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

Forty million Americans are now living in poverty according to the Census Bureau.

And the new data on income inequality shows that the top 1% keeps getting richer and the rest of us are falling farther and farther behind.

This is not sustainable for our economy or our democracy.

Even before the recession hit, middle class incomes had been stagnant and the number of people living in poverty in America was unacceptably high, and the recent numbers make it clear that our work is just beginning.

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

They have mounting bills, families to feed, tuition to pay, and retirement to plan for.

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

My focus — and the focus of the Obama Administration — is to create and provide jobs for the millions of Americans that are out of work.

Regardless of what you hear, we must remember that we have been making steady progress.

We have a long ways to go, but because of the Recovery Act, we are doing the hard work to come out of this Great Recession and we did NOT plunge into our own generations Great Depression — which was a real possibility

Because of the Recovery Act funding construction projects, high speed rail, investments in clean and renewable energy projects are positioning the United States as an economic leader for the 21st Century.

The Recovery Act was designed to get money into local communities to get local economies moving again, and to build the foundation for a more stable economy going forward.

It contained tax cuts for middle class families to put more money into family budgets.

And it provided funds to help those looking to get into the workforce get good jobs with a long and stable future.

And we cannot forget the millions of jobs that the Recovery Act saved in so many communities across the country.

I'm proud to say that things are looking up for American workers.

Productivity is up and hours people are working are up.

We are seeing an increase in manufacturing employment for the first time since 1998.

Over the last few months we have seen a rise in construction, leisure and hospitality, mining and retail.

In fact we've had private sector job growth every month for the last 9 months — over 800,000 private sector jobs — and that's good news

But, we are still not anywhere close to being satisfied.

Millions are unemployed and millions more are underemployed and plenty of families were hurting before this economic crisis.

That is why at the Department of Labor our sole vision is "Good and Safe Jobs for Everyone."

What do I mean by good and safe jobs?

  • Jobs that support a family by increasing incomes, provide retirement security and narrows the wage gap;
  • Jobs that are safe and secure — meaning every worker goes home at the end of their shift;
  • Jobs that give people a voice in the workplace and the right to organize and bargain collectively;
  • Jobs that are sustainable — like green jobs — that export products, not paychecks.
  • And jobs that rebuild a strong middle class.

Providing workers with good and safe jobs is what we are working towards.

And because of this vision we are getting Americans back to work by linking job seekers with employers looking for new or replacement hires, providing education and training opportunities to job seekers looking to upgrade their skills, and strengthening the safety net to support those workers who've lost their job.

We have made unemployment assistance available to more American workers, and efforts by the administration have resulted in unemployment benefits being extended as many job seekers simply haven't been able to find work.

Since January 2009, the Department has ensured that 29 million Americans received the unemployment benefits they earned.

And I'm proud to say that in the last 18 months, over 1 million program participants — who were unemployed at participation — in our WIA Adult, Dislocated Worker, National Emergency Grant and Older Youth programs have obtained employment within 3 months of their program exit.

Investing in our future workforce has also been a driver of our focus.

The transition to a clean energy economy reduces our dependence on foreign energy, enhances our national security, and will provide new jobs for American workers.

Through the Recovery Act, we invested in 189 green jobs training programs to make careers in solar, wind, biofuels and other clean energy sources available to Americans throughout the United States.

This is the first concerted federal green job training program, and we're continuing to work to make green jobs a part of our nation's overall job training programs.

We have invested in youth employment, job training for ex-offenders, and communities with rates of poverty because we believe that everyone — not just a select few — should benefit from the recovery.

But while we have and continue to make strategic investments in workers, we must also remember that — it's not a good job, unless it's a safe job.

I have always been an advocate for worker safety, but this year has made this the cause of my lifetime.

In April of this year, 29 miners were killed at the Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia, 7 steelworkers, that same weekend in Washington State and 11 workers in an oil rig explosion south of Louisiana.

It makes me sad to say that 12 workers die a day in this country.

Yet, you or I never really hear about it.

The story in the evening newscast is as blunt as it is brief: "local man killed during workplace fall" or "worker crushed by machine."

The familiar images of yet another tragic accident at work call us urgently to action, but they then dissolve smoothly into the next news item.

I think everyone in this room can agree — no one should have to go to work afraid that they might not return home safe from their shift.

Whether it's a dramatic explosion or slow steady exposure to unsafe chemicals, or housekeepers — breaking their bodies with increased workloads — the Labor Department can and will hold employers accountable and say NO MORE to preventable accidents and injuries!

Put simply — the Labor Department is back in the enforcement business.

In addition to stepping up our own game, we are committed to working with Congress to modernize and strengthen the very laws that protect worker safety in all of our nation's workplaces.

Some argue that workplace health and safety inspections, enforcement, and regulations are "inconvenient and intrusive."

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

To this end, we have restored worker protection agencies and hired hundreds of new investigators — folks who speak multiple languages and who we are training to work with community allies to ensure worker protections.

We have filed a record number of egregious safety cases and issued the highest fines in OSHA's history, sending a strong message that we will not tolerate neglect of worker safety and health.

We've recovered and secured $259 million in back wages for workers and we are just getting started.

And we launched a multilingual "We Can Help" outreach campaign to educate workers about their rights on the job.

All of this is good for workers and good for employers.

Businesses that play by the rules should not have to compete with bad companies that do not.

An even and level playing field for business is what we want and it is what business wants.

And in the end, it is what workers want.

Whether it's providing a safety net for our most vulnerable citizens, or giving them the tools they need for a successful career, or providing all workers with the protections that are entitled to them, workers are our most valuable asset.

So the problems facing working families, they're nothing new.

But they are more serious than ever. And that makes our cause more urgent than ever.

For generations it was the great American middle class that made our economy the envy of the world.

It's got to be that way again.

We're not going to move this economy forward with just a few folks at the top doing well, hoping that it's going to trickle down to working people who are running faster and faster just to keep up.

As President Obama has said many times before, it took us a long time to get out of where we are right now.

And the damage left by this recession is so deep that it's going to take a long time to get out.

It will take determination, persistence, and, most importantly, the will to act — all elements that Americans have.

And if we summon that spirit now, I'm absolutely convinced that we will rebuild our economy, we will put our people back to work, and we'll come through these tough days to better and brighter days ahead.

I truly believe that people who love their country can change it.

And change it we will.

Thank you again for the opportunity to be here.