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

Remarks by Hilda L. Solis, Secretary of Labor
UA of Journeymen & Apprentices of the Plumbing & Pipefitters
Las Vegas, NV
Friday, August 12, 2011

Good morning UA! Buenos dias!

Thank you Bill, for that wonderful introduction.

It's great to be here. You know, when Bill invited me to speak I didn't hesitate — it's always good to be with the UA. Though I didn't know it was going to be this early in the morning! 9am is a little early for Vegas don't you think, Bill??

You guys sound pretty fired up, though — right? Are you guys fired up??

Bill, thank you for your leadership and your friendship. Even in the toughest of times for organized labor, you've kept organizing. You've kept training. You've kept growing. You've kept fighting for the values that created the middle class in this country.

So, thank you for all that you do. I also want to recognize your Secretary Treasurer, Pat Perno and Steve Kelly for their leadership and good work. Guys, thank you for having me here this morning.

And to the families, the veterans and all of the proud union members in the house today, thank you for being here. I know we're facing some incredible challenges, but each and every one of you has stood “UA proud" — proud to be fighting in this movement — proud to be fighting for working people. I'm proud to stand with you today. I'm proud to stand with labor.

Brothers and sisters, I don't have to tell you that our movement is facing its greatest threat in generations. In states across the country, our opponents are waging attacks on working people at the worst possible time. Some state officials are saying that we can't afford unions right now — that organized labor is to blame — that labor unions are the problem in this country.

Well, I think they've got it backwards — President Obama thinks so, too. Unions like the UA are crucial, now more than ever, and they can and should be part of the solution. That's why I've continued to speak out against those who want to use our financial crisis as an excuse to take this country backward by attacking workers rights.

You know that's the wrong way to go... right? You know that when workers have a voice, their workplaces are safer, they do better work, and their families are more secure. You know that working people want and need a voice to demand dignity, respect and a seat at the bargaining table.

My parents taught me that as a young girl. My mother worked at a toy assembly plant and was a member of the United Rubber Workers Union, which is now the Steelworkers. My father worked in a battery recycling plant and was a Teamsters shop steward. When I was in ninth grade, my dad would come home at the end of the day and ask me to sit with him at our kitchen table. From his pockets, he would pull pieces of paper with writing in Spanish on them. They were notes given to him by his co-workers. There were all sorts of things scribbled on them: grievances about health and safety practices at the plant, questions about paychecks that didn't add up, and ideas about how to improve the efficiency and productivity of the line. He'd ask me to translate them into English for him.

At first, I didn't understand what they were. When I asked, he explained: "They are the voice of the workers." He said that the paper scraps started a conversation between the union and management. He told me it was a way to get them together "at the table."

And as the attacks on workers rights have carried on throughout the country, I've often recalled those talks with my father. I think about the benefits and the protections he and my mother had because they were union and how those things created a better life for them and their children. I think about the millions of working families today who depend on those same kinds of benefits to create a better life for their own children. I think about our struggling middle class and how lawmakers should be supporting working people rather than eroding their rights.

We know that a strong economy depends on a strong, growing middle class. And developing a strong middle class depends on a vibrant and organized labor movement. You know that.

You know that the recovery of our economy and our nation depends on good jobs that can support a family by increasing incomes; jobs that are safe and secure, and give people a voice in the workplace. We need jobs that are sustainable and innovative, that export American products — not paychecks.

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.

That's why we acted quickly to save the auto industry, which has come roaring back in the last year, adding ten of thousands of jobs. And it's why President Obama is bringing business, education and community leaders together to invest in emerging technologies that will create high quality manufacturing jobs so we can sell our products all over the world.

I know where our nation's unemployment rate stands — I have to report it every month. Working families here in Nevada have been hit harder than most. But the fact is; we are adding jobs. We were losing 750,000 jobs a month when President Obama took office. And since that time, we've created 2.4 million jobs. It's not enough — I know we've got a lot more to do. But we are making steady progress.

There are a number of steps Congress can take right now to create jobs and President Obama has called on Democrats and Republicans alike to put politics aside and work together to help grow this economy. We've got to stand with him on this.

We need to extend the payroll tax cut, for working families to help them make ends meet and create more demand for our businesses, right now... We need to make sure the millions of folks looking for work can access unemployment benefits, right now... We need to put the pressure on Congress right now to pass legislation that supports a strong manufacturing sector that will allow our businesses to sell more products in countries abroad — products that we make, right here in America.

UA, we've got to invest in our infrastructure, right now! We've got to give more opportunities to construction workers who lost their jobs when the housing boom went bust. We could put them back to work right now, by giving loans to companies that want to repair our roads and bridges, our schools and our airports, our power plants and our refineries. We need to re-build America, and I know that the UA is ready to get to work, right?!

I know because I've seen for myself the incredible talent you can produce. I've visited your training facilities and have met many of your apprentices. I know we've got some of them in the house today. Where are you guys at?!

Back in January, Bill invited me on a tour of your UA and Marines Apprenticeship program at Camp Pendleton. I believe in the power of registered apprenticeships. I often call them one of America's best kept secrets. The program at Camp Pendleton was particularly compelling. I had heard a lot about the UA's strong commitment to our Veterans, but this trip brought it all to life. The program capitalizes on the work skills Veterans already have, makes them applicable to a UA job, and puts these Veterans into good jobs. We have a duty to give back to our VETS, and you guys are setting the bar!

I was so inspired that I decided to host an event at the Department of Labor a few months later to celebrate 100 years of registered apprenticeships. Labor unions, employers and government officials gathered on the National Mall to praise apprenticeships — we even had mobile training units on display for all to see.

We talked a lot about labor/management partnerships that day. About matching up skills with what 21st century employers need to create career pipelines for all kinds of workers. That's our focus at the Department of Labor: Fostering partnerships that create meaningful career pathways for workers — directly from the classroom, to the office, or right onto the construction site.

We've made historic investments to link job training to emerging sectors like clean energy, healthcare, IT and advanced manufacturing. We've also made millions of dollars available through grant competitions to foster private and public sector partnerships that support innovation; green jobs; and that create career opportunities for ex-offenders, at-risk youth, women, veterans and their families.

We've done a lot to provide training opportunities for all kinds of workers, but we've faced some serious head winds to get it done. Our opponents on Capitol Hill have tried to strip training programs from our budget. They say they don't help working people and the middle class. We know they're wrong.

We've had to fight to extend unemployment benefits; we've had to fight to protect Medicare and Medicaid; we've even had to fight for Trade Adjustment Assistance, or TAA, which has always  enjoyed bi-partisan support. This is a program that serves as a crucial lifeline for those workers who've had their jobs shipped overseas. TAA has been around for almost 50 years and has given countless workers the skills training and support they need to re-enter the labor force.

These are programs workers and job-seekers — especially in tough economic times. That's why we've fought so hard to preserve them. And it's why we need to continue to stand with our President and keep putting the pressure on Congress — not only to spur job growth but to protect programs that look out for working people and support our nation's middle-class.

So we've fought hard to protect Davis-Bacon. Just this year, the House majority has voted five times to try and undermine Davis-Bacon protections and Project Labor Agreements. We know that project labor agreements can increase efficiency and contribute to our economy. That's why, since day one, our President has continued to encourage them.

Since the Great Depression, Davis-Bacon has protected the rights of countless construction workers to receive local prevailing wages. And thanks to the leadership of the Building and Construction Trades, we've garnered bi-partisan support and won all five votes to preserve Davis-Bacon Protections. Thanks to their help we've succeeded in safeguarding this important law.

We've fortified our Wage and Hour division with hundreds of new investigators. Last year, we doubled the number of Davis-Bacon investigations and we're ­debarring contractors with serious violations; we're going after general contractors who have skated for years by passing the blame to their subcontractors. We're cracking down on employers who misclassify their employees to get out of paying livable wages and benefits. And we're updating our rules and regulations to fit the 21st century workplace.

This means re-invigorating OSHA. We're doing everything we can to ramp up enforcement. We want to make sure that you can get up in the morning with confidence that you'll come home to your family safely at night.

We've made it clear that we have zero tolerance for preventable injuries and deaths at work. For the first time, we've encouraged enterprise-wide complaints. We've made OSHA more strategic and more efficient and have filed a record number of egregious cases and issued critical new rules to protect construction workers from the dangers cranes and derricks can pose.

The bottom line: We're doing more, and we're using every tool we have to make sure working people get the protections they need and deserve.

That's a message I'll never let up on. Whether it's about staying safe at work or making sure you get paid for the hours you put in every day, you need a voice to demand decency, fairness and respect.

And folks, let me applaud the hard-fought victory of our brothers and sisters in Wisconsin a couple of days ago. They made their voices heard and sent their Governor a powerful message: no more. The days of playing partisan games with the lives or working people are coming to and end. But it's about more than just Wisconsin. We're going to have to use that momentum and take that message to states across the country.

As we do, I'll be thinking about the millions of people who report to jobs that don't pay enough, or worse, those who have no job at all. Working people don't want a hand out or a free lunch... they just want a level playing field with clear rules, an opportunity to work hard, and a fair chance to provide for their families and get ahead.

I'll be thinking about my dad and those conversations we used to have in our kitchen. I'll be thinking about this union and about the fact that, now more than ever, workers still want and need a seat at the table. And brothers and sisters I want you to know that I'll never stop fighting for it.

Thank you, UA, for all that you do for working people and thank you again for having me here.

God bless you and God bless the United States of America