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

Remarks for the Honorable Hilda L. Solis
"Restaurant Workers in the 21st Century"
Washington, DC
Thursday, November 17, 2011

Good afternoon everyone. Buenas tardes.

Welcome to the Department of Labor.

Thank you all for being here this afternoon and thanks to all of you who are tuning in online as well.

Since day one on this job, I've made good jobs for everyone our number one goal here at the Department. I said that there was a new sheriff in town, and I meant it. All working people deserve dignity and respect. And whether you run a company or work in a restaurant, all working people deserve a livable wage, health care and the opportunity care for their families.

I've said before but I'll say it again: all workers have protections under the laws of this nation.

After being sworn in, I added 300 new wage and hour investigators to help ensure workers are paid properly for the work they've already done. We've collected hundreds of millions of dollars in back wages from employers who've cheated their workers out of money that they're legally owed.

But even with the extra manpower — even with our enforcement successes — we know that we've got more to do to make sure vulnerable workers don't slip through the cracks. And thanks to your efforts, workers are coming together, and they're standing up for their rights, for their livelihoods and that of their families. Together, they're building across generations, for fairness and for basic human rights that provide a dignified life.

So I'd like to thank all of our panelists today and everyone here for your dedication to this important work.

Policies such as promoting work-life balance and the ability to keep a job while caring for our families, is critical to the prosperity and security of our economy and of our nation as a whole.

We must also recognize that the economic challenges we face are proving to have an even greater impact on those having less earning power, such as those employed in hourly positions or in lower-paying jobs. These workers tend to be more vulnerable because most lower-paying jobs do not provide job security or critical benefits like health insurance or workplace flexibility that allows parents to better balance their work/life responsibilities.

Let me just say this: no matter where we work, raising our children and caring for our loved ones is the single most important job that we have. No one should ever have to choose between being a good parent and being a good employee.

Together, we can help even the lowest paid workers do both. Some 75 million U.S. workers are paid by the hour. 61% of them are women earning a median wage of $11.49 per hour. And Latinos and African Americans are terribly over-represented in this group relative to their participation in the overall workforce.

Low-wage and hourly workers are faced with the same work-life issues as professional workers. In some cases, not being able to adjust to work-life issues can have more devastating effects on their work status. As you know, women now comprise almost half of our workforce, and more men are serving as caregivers.

The American labor force has changed.

Unfortunately, the workplace frameworks have remained the same — with policies that fail to reflect those changes and the challenges critical to economic survival. With over 10.1 million workers, the restaurant industry is one of the largest and fastest-growing sectors of our economy.

But restaurant jobs provide poverty wages and little access to benefits, such as paid leave when a parent or their child gets sick. And because the majority of restaurant workers are women, the pay gap issue that affects all of us, affects them even more adversely. The gender pay gap for female restaurant workers is 86 cents on the dollar compared to male restaurant workers.

And it's important to remember that this issue doesn't just affect women. It affects entire families, too often pushing more and more of these struggling families uner the poverty line.

Today, we've got Saru Jayaraman from Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, and Lanie Romero-Austin from the Ford Foundationswho will provide more insight into this issue for restaurant workers.

Togther with top officials from my enforcment staff, they will discuss the things we can do in the long-term to make sure continue to spotlight this isse and make sure that vulnerable workers are afforded the rights and protections they deserve.

In the short term, know that we at the Department of Labor will continue to enforce programs and policies that, support equal pay for equal work that aim to finally close the pay gap; promote the advancement of women in non-traditional and growing sectors; support working mothers and ensure that more families can take advantage of workplace flexibility initiatives; and provide training services to help women find good jobs and move along the career pathway.

I know that today's briefing session will hold interesting discussion and meaningful interaction on the needs of this special population of workers and what we as a people and as a government need to do in helping our most vulnerable workers.

Thank you all for being here and being a part of this important undertaking to help America's working families.