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Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez
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Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez

Remarks By
Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez,
President Obama Minimum Wage Event,
Costco,
Lanham, MD,
January 29, 2014

[as prepared for delivery]

Good morning everyone. What a great honor to be here today. Thank you, Amina, for leading us in the Pledge of Allegiance. And thank you all for hosting the President of the United States and helping him send the message that we need to raise the federal minimum wage because it's the right thing to do for our workers and the smart thing to do for our economy.

To help make that case, look no further than Costco. Costco has been proving for years that you can be a profitable company while still paying your employees a fair wage. They've rejected the old false choice that you can serve the interests of your shareholders, or your workers, but not both. In fact, if you were smart enough to put a dollar into Costco stock in 1985, today you would have more than a 2000 percent return on investment.

I've shopped here for years. These glasses are from Costco. This shirt I'm wearing — bought it at Costco. Here, look at this: this is my Costco card. It's so old that I practically had a full head of hair in the photo. And I had no replacement parts at the time.

My wife and I started shopping here when we were expecting our first child... now she's getting ready to graduate high school and get away from mom and dad. At the time, our expenses were going up — we were stocking up on diapers and formula and other products we hadn't needed to that point.

We picked Costco and stayed loyal, not only because they have quality products and reasonable prices, but also because they treat their employees well — with a good salary and benefits and opportunities for advancement. And to take it one step further, Costco is showing real leadership in making sure every worker connected to its supply chain is also paid and treated fairly.

One of the first things I did as Secretary of Labor was go to the opening of the new Costco store in Alexandria. And the general manager was a woman who had worked for Costco for 25 years, starting out pushing carts, and now she had moved up the chain to run a store. Those are ladders of opportunity. That's what President Obama wants for more Americans.

But it's not just Costco. I've spent a lot of time talking to a lot of employers who believe that higher wages are a part of a successful business model. I've talked to restaurant owners and other businesspeople — large and small alike — who say it increases retention, boosts productivity and cuts down on training costs. They tell me that the best thing we can do for business is to increase consumer demand and put more money in the pockets of working families.

No less a capitalist than Henry Ford understood this. It was exactly 100 years ago that he was facing a high attrition rate and took the extraordinary step of doubling the wages of his assembly line workers. He understood the ways in which higher pay would reverberate and recirculate throughout the economy. As he put it: "Countrywide high wages spell countrywide prosperity."

Now I want to introduce you to a man who grasps these issues instinctively. He shares the president's belief that we need to empower more people to punch their ticket to the middle class. He shares this administration's belief that anyone who works hard and plays by the rules should have the opportunity to succeed. He believes in the principle of a fair day's pay for a fair day's work.

And under his leadership, the state of Maryland has been in the vanguard. I know, because I worked for him as the state Secretary of Labor and Industry. And in that position, I had the privilege of implementing the nation's first state law mandating that government contractors be paid a living wage. That was almost seven years ago, and now, thanks to the executive order the President announced last night, we are taking a similar step on the federal level. So I give you a forward-looking leader and a champion for the middle-class... my governor... your governor... Martin O'Malley.