Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis
Remarks for Secretary Hilda L. Solis
National Latino Evangelical Coalition Gala Dinner
Friday, December 14, 2012
Thank you, NALEC, for that warm welcome.
Thank you, Reverend Salguero, for your leadership.
And thanks to all of you for your work to clothe the poor, feed the hungry, heal the sick and provide spiritual guidance to so many.
I've made two trips to New York City since Hurricane Sandy to make sure help is getting to those who need it.
And I've been so inspired to see the incredible role the faith community is playing to help people rebuild.
In the face of so much hardship, I also saw many scenes that left me inspired.
I saw that rough-and-tumble New Yorker stereotype give way to acts of kindness and sacrifice.
I saw people more concerned about their neighbors than they were themselves.
They were standing elbow to elbow in food lines.
They knew there was a limited amount of food, but they waited patiently.
No one pushed or jostled.
I actually saw people at the front of the line passing sandwiches back to the people behind them.
At Blessed Virgin Mary in Brooklyn, I saw a priest who looked like he hadn't slept in days.
He delivered compassion, comfort and words of inspiration to people of every race, religion and background.
At St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church in Queens, congregants told me how they opened up their church to the Jewish community for Sabbath services Friday night after their temple was damaged in the storm.
I will never forget the people I met or their determination to rebuild.
Long after the camera crews are gone, we will still be there for them.
That's what we do and we've been doing it for a long time.
I want to tell you about a special birthday.
It's coming up in March, and it's a big one:
The Department of Labor is turning 100 years old.
For a century, we've been standing up for the rights of working people to be treated fairly.
Our department has an amazing history.
And I was honored in 2009 when President Obama made a little history choosing me as the first Latina to serve as Secretary of Labor.
Four years ago, right before my swearing-in, I was exploring my new neighborhood in Capitol Hill when I came upon a small Episcopal church.
It was called St. Monica and St. James.
It was just a few blocks from my home, so I decided to check it out.
I enjoyed the services greatly. The music was beautiful.
The sermons were thought-provoking. The congregation was friendly. I felt very much at home.
On my third visit, as the service ended, one of the ushers introduced himself and took my hand.
He smiled warmly and said:
"We know who you are. We're so glad you are here. We knew you'd come."
He was a very nice man... but I had no idea what he was talking about!
And then he explained:
It turns out, back when it was just called St. James, the church was the spiritual home of the most influential labor secretary in American history, Frances Perkins.
She was appointed by FDR. She was the first female cabinet member
She held the position for 12 years.
And she was the champion of the New Deal.
She led the effort to create Social Security, Unemployment insurance, minimum wage and overtime pay.
Today, our department's main building is named after Frances Perkins.
She was a woman of great accomplishments, and of great faith.
She knew the power of the faith community in changing the lives of working people.
She enlisted faith leaders during the Great Depression to rally support for the New Deal.
I think she would be very pleased to see how the Labor Department is working with the faith community today to help people find jobs.
I know many of you sponsor job clubs at your churches to help your congregants find work.
Whether it's help with networking, writing resumes, or just providing emotional and spiritual support, we know job clubs work.
The prayers, fellowship and hospitality you offer give people the strength to keep going.
If you aren't working with my department's faith-based office yet, I hope you will start.
My department's faith-based office is working hard to connect job clubs in different cities with our 3,000 American Job Centers.
We can provide resources to help you.
If you aren't working with us yet, we hope you will start.
Reverend Phil Tom who is here tonight runs our faith-based office, and he can be reached at: (202) 693-6030.
I also want to talk a little today about immigration reform.
So many of you have been strong voices for in this movement for change.
Leaders of faith play a unique role in this debate.
Not only do you help make the moral and spiritual case for immigration reform, you provide vital perspective as leaders of congregations.
Because every day, you're dealing with the real consequences of our broken immigration system on families.
So many in the Latino community depend on the counsel, support and assistance that you provide.
Thank you for all that you do.
There has been a lot of excitement building over the last few weeks about immigration reform.
As someone who has fought for reform for my entire career, I've been encouraged to see the diverse voices coming out in support of this issue.
Part of my job is to make sure that employers do not hire and exploit undocumented workers and pay them less than the minimum wage.
That undercuts wages across industries, and it's wrong.
We also have to keep up the pressure in Washington to make the DREAM Act the law of the land...
Not just for the duration of President Obama's time in office... but now and forever!
We know achieving progress on immigration reform won't be easy.
But the environment couldn't be more ripe than it is right now for a bill to move.
Over the years, our community has become very strategic when it comes to advancing public policy.
We've learned to never stop fighting for what's right.
We've learned that perseverance is key.
I want to share a brief story that speaks to this.
One of the very first fights of my political life began in 1987.
I was a trustee on a community college board back in California...
As a trustee and then as a California assemblywoman, I supported giving more undocumented students a chance to get a college education.
I wrote the bill in the legislature. It failed, but we never gave up.
We knew that this wasn't just about education or immigration.
It was about opportunity and access for Latinos in every sector of our society.
Last year, 25 years after I began my crusade, California's version of the DREAM Act became law.
Only now, Latinos aren't just filling the halls of California's public colleges Latinos are running them.
And these California students now have access to college, driver's licenses and the ability to work for two years!
Now, thanks to this administration's action, so many of America's best and brightest can step out of the shadow and pursue a college education.
The American Dream now includes our Dreamers, too!
2012 was also a special year in my agency.
In the spring, the Department of Labor marked the 50th anniversary of the United Farm Workers by inducting the pioneers of the movement into our Hall of Honor.
It's the highest honor we bestow.
We hosted a wonderful celebration of visionaries like Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta.
And we honored the everyday heroes who stood up for the dignity of work and the right to fair wages and safe working conditions.
Earlier this year, I was proud to continue their legacy.
I signed worker protection agreements with consulates of Honduras, Peru, Ecuador and the Philippines.
We now have agreements with 10 different embassies, so migrant workers who come to this country know their rights and aren't exploited.
We have new provisions for the use of U-Visas to help victims of labor trafficking and violence against the workplace.
Correct workplace injustice is a mission my department's Wage & Hour Division carries out every day.
We know there are still working folks being mistreated, and we have a duty to do right by them.
I'm proud that in the last fiscal year, my Wage and Hour division has:
- Conducted more investigations
- And collected more money in back wages for workers than in any year in history of the Department of Labor.
As long as I'm the Labor Secretary, we'll continue to reach out to workers in their native language.
And we'll continue to recover millions of dollars in back wages for vulnerable workers whose rights have been violated.
So let me close today by thanking you for fighting for equality and opportunity for the most vulnerable workers.
And for honoring the lesson of Matthew 25:35 and the words we know so well:
"For I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you welcomed me."
Thank you, my friends, for doing the Lord's work.
Together, we shall continue to strive to make this nation all that it can and should be.