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Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez
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Director of the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, Patricia Shiu

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery
Keynote Speech to the National Industry Liaison Group
August 4, 2010
Las Vegas, Nevada

Good morning! Thank you very much for the honor of inviting me to speak today. This is a marvelous location, a surprisingly beautiful place to hold this event. I would like to take the opportunity to thank conference co-chairs, John Garza, Flossie Chrstensen, and Geoff Johnson. I would also like to thank my Regional Director Bill Smitherman for his leadership in hosting this conference. I view the ILG as an important stakeholder and partner in OFCCP's quest for making equal employment opportunity a reality for all workers. Today I want to share some of my thoughts about the world of work with you.

We all live in a world today where work is a very different phenomenon than it was sixty, or even fifty years ago. Let us take a glimpse of what the world of work looks like today, and what it holds for this country's future.

In the 1960's and 1970's women entered the workforce in droves. Women currently comprise approximately 50% of the labor force. They come from all walks of life, and work in all occupations and professions. This is an unprecedented change from the post World War II era when many women resumed their primary roles — after serving the war effort — think of Rosie the Riveter — as family care takers. Today, most families — whatever their composition — have at least two members who work in some sort of gainful employment in order to sustain themselves. Today, caretakers of children — usually that means women — often work outside the home, frequently full-time. Not necessarily because they want to, but out of sheer economic necessity.

Today, female wage earners are often primary wage earners, and not just in families where they are the heads of households. For the overwhelming number of American families, a female worker's wages are necessary for the family to survive.

Pay equity is a family issue. It is an economic recovery issue. This is no time for any family to earn less in this economy.

It is no secret that the wage gap persists between men and women, and that this gap is even higher for women of color. Despite the fact that President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act into law 47 years ago, with the express intention of closing this gap, the gap remains — some 47 years later.

And this wage differential has significant ramifications for families and for women, and not just for a brief time, but for years. Women, who are paid less, earn less — and often for a lifetime — not just once. This means that they have fewer resources to raise their families which affects where families live, what families eat, how much time mothers and fathers can spend with their children at home because as we all know — more time spent at work means less time for the family, for homework, for simply being with your children which is a critical part of raising a child.

This pay gap affects whether families can spend quality time together, provide educational and cultural opportunities like music and dance lessons, can afford to pay for college — critical decisions of access that depend largely, as we all know, on how much an individual earns. For those of you who have lived on a budget, being paid more — even 23 cents more per hour, can mean the difference between living from paycheck to paycheck to living with a little breathing room, and with less stress trying to make ends meet, when one is constantly worrying about the next unanticipated emergency for which there is no extra cash. This is the reality behind the wage gap — the real story — and its affect on the lives of families is stark, and must be addressed.

One prominent labor economist has opined that if we could close the pay gap, we could cut in half the number of children living in poverty in this country. Think about that for one moment. That is an incredible gift to our country, and to our children.

Perhaps the person who best explained what I have just described is Lily Ledbetter. She talked about her own experience as a family wage earner, how she was paid less than a man doing the exact same work, and how it affected her family.

I had the distinct pleasure of hearing Lily Ledbetter speak at a White House Middle Class Task Force Event where Vice President Biden announced many of the inroads that the President, his administration, and Secretary Hilda Solis and the Department of Labor, are making to level the playing field for workers. As many of you know, Lily Ledbetter worked for years for a company where she earned less than a man doing the exact same work. She only learned of this pay discrepancy when somebody passed her an anonymous note. She took her case to court, and won but the Supreme Court overturned that verdict, stating that she could not seek pay beyond her last pay check, not for the years that she was underpaid. President Obama signed the Lily Ledbetter Act soon after he took office — in essence to reinstate the state of the law prior to the Supreme Court's decision. Unfortunately, this is not just Lily Ledbetter's story; it is the story and the reality for millions of working families.

Women who are paid less have less social security upon which to rely when it is time for them to retire. And of course their pensions are less because they have earned less money over the course of their working lives and therefore have less money to put away for saving. Translated into real terms, this means that they have less money to live on when they grow old and less money to support their ailing spouses. And supporting ailing spouses is just one example of the dual role that both men and women — most often women play as care takers.

Our country is growing older, and the baby boomer generation is aging. And with this development comes the increased demand for care taking of elderly parents, siblings, and spouses. The necessity of providing family leave, reasonable accommodations and work-place flexibility is no longer an "option" or an "extra fringe benefit." The world of work today — especially for the United States which operates in a global economy — demands that we address the competing demands of work and family with which so many workers face. And who is the next generation of workers, the ones that so many families are caring for today?

Examining the racial and national origin demographic face of this country, it is clear that this aspect of the world of work has changed as well. Indeed, the educational landscape of this country reflects these dramatic changes. These changes have significant ramifications for our future work force, their skill sets, language capacity, and access to important educational opportunities. Hispanics are one of the fastest growing minority groups in this country, yet a substantial percentage of Hispanic youth do not graduate from high school. African-American students tend to lag behind Asians and Caucasians, and Native American students lag behind even further.

Some Asian students — although not most Southeast Asian students — tend to do well academically, but the gap persists. Those who come from language communities where they are among the first generation are plagued by many of the same challenges as Hispanic and African-American students. Clearly, we as a country have much work ahead us to ensure that excellent public education — the great equalizer — is available for all of us, not just some of us.

Finally, the unemployment rate affects everyone. People with disabilities, Black men, and Native Americans share the dubious distinction of persistent and alarmingly high rates of unemployment and underemployment. Thankfully, we are beginning to see a slow increase in the growth of our economy. We should remember that only two years ago this country faced a major economic depression, and we have escaped that imminent threat. But President Obama warned us repeatedly that saving this economy from the brink of disaster would take time — and it did. He also reminded us that revitalizing this economy would take time, and it has, but we are making progress. In fact, Secretary Solis has distributed $800,000,000 in grants to help create jobs and fund job training programs. ARRA money — the Recovery Act money — has been spent to rebuild our ailing infrastructure and on many other projects which have created jobs.

With all of this in mind, what are the challenges that we face in making equal employment opportunity a reality. Here is what OFCCP is doing to address some of these issues.

The OFCCP is working on pay equity issues. As a member of the White House Task Force on Pay Equity, the Department of Labor, and specifically the OFCCP is playing a leading role on this issue with our partners the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Department of Justice, and the Office of Personnel Management. The goal is pay equity, and the federal government is holding itself accountable as well. The OPM is examining how it will further reduce the wage disparity between male and female employees working for the federal government.

The OFCCP will rescind the 2006 Guidance, and will issue an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to solicit your ideas and views about the new wage data collection instrument.

The EEOC and the OFCCP have embarked on a new path of partnership and leadership that will help to guide the civil rights agenda for this country. I am so pleased to have the opportunity to work closely with my dear colleague, Jackie Berrien, the Chair of the EEOC, who is also here today. She is deeply committed to the well-being of workers, and we share a philosophical belief in the importance of work to each individual. Our work together on implementing the White House Pay Equity Initiative affords our respective agencies the unique opportunity to work in concert on these and so many of the other pressing issues that workers face. I look forward to working closely with her and my other colleagues at the EEOC and the Department of Justice.

Just a few weeks ago, the OFCCP issued an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to solicit your ideas and views about the following topics:

  • Employment practices that have been effective in recruiting, hiring, advancing, and retaining qualified individuals with disabilities;
  • The availability of data that could be used to establish hiring goals and conduct utilization analyses of individuals with disabilities; and
  • How linkage agreements between Federal contractors and organizations that focus on the employment of qualified individuals with disabilities can be strengthened to increase effectiveness.

The reality is that people with disabilities are unemployed and underemployed at alarming rates. According to the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 22.5% of people with disabilities were in the labor force as of March 2010 in comparison with 70.2% of people without disabilities. I am so pleased to work closely with my dear colleague, Assistant Secretary Kathy Martinez, a formidable civil rights leader whose passion for these issues is infectious.

Yesterday, I spoke with many of you about OFCCP's full regulatory agenda, and many of you know about of our efforts to strengthen affirmative action for protected veterans, and for women and minorities in the construction industry.

With respect to enforcement, the OFCCP is working to transform its enforcement procedures to be more effective, more efficient, and more pro-active. The OFCCP staff across the country is stepping up their investigations and audits, ensuring accuracy, thoroughness, and quality outcomes. Excellence is the standard.

Speaking of enforcement, and in particular OFCCP's Functional Affirmative Action Program, I would like to make a request. All of you can help me if you would. Mr. Jim Pierce, OFCCP Deputy Director of Operations, will be leading a discussion on OFCCP's FAAP program. I am examining whether this program should continue, and if so in what form. Please use this time with Jim to share your views on how the FAAP works in your company, why it promotes affirmative, how it promotes affirmative action, how you measure results, how you know your results are accurate, and what steps you take to adapt your AAP when necessary, and how you know when it is necessary to do so. Your willingness to share your views today, and most importantly, the details of these questions will go along way in my exploration and consideration of this important program.

This is a historic time in this country for the world of work. It is our combined efforts that will enhance that world for workers and their families. We can embrace the challenges that face us — daunting as they may be — they are not insurmountable. America has always been known for its creativity, for its fortitude, its willingness to go the extra mile, and for its compassion. We have a real opportunity to improve the lives of workers and their families — to realize the goal of equal employment opportunity for all workers. I invite you to join me in that endeavor. Thank you.