U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert B. Reich
United Steel Workers Legislative Conference
Washington, D.C. July 17, 1995.
Thank you, George. And thank you for the contributions you've made to this union, to the trade union movement, and to working people across America. During the past two and a half years, you've been an inspiring leader and a devoted friend. I know I can always count on you for sound -- yes, steel-plated -- advice. Every Steelworker in this room should be very proud of their president.
Let me begin by thanking all of you for coming to Washington. This legislative conference is unlike any that has come before. There's a new regime in Congress -- and there's lots of work to be done. As you race around Washington these next few days, you'll hear members of this new Congress talk about making government smaller and more efficient. To them, I say this: I defy you to find a smaller, more efficient Labor Secretary. I can get by on 800 calories a day. Try that, Newt Gingrich.
Speaker Gingrich has been travelling around the country lately plugging his new book. I've been travelling, too -- not to sell something, but to listen . . . to listen to real Americans . . . real working Americans in every region of our country.
These working families may not grab the headlines, but the more I listen, the more I realize that they are the unspoken heroes of American life. All of you know what I'm talking about. These Americans are your neighbors and your friends; many are your brothers and sisters in this great union. These Americans sit at the kitchen table at night, figuring out how to pay this month's bills. They pray their kids don't get sick, because the doctor bills are getting more expensive each year. They worry about taking a walk after dinner, because the neighborhood's no longer safe.
They're not on welfare -- although some come perilously close. And they don't need a capital gains tax cut, because they don't have much capital.
They are ordinary Americans, barely holding on, as great waves of economic change engulf them. And they're having a tough time.
Too many families have been working harder, but getting nowhere. It is true that the income of the average household has been increasing. But averages often obscure the important details. After all, Shaquille O'Neal and I have an average height of six feet. The reality is that, for 15 years, the wages of most Americans have been stuck or have fallen -- and families have had a harder time holding on to a decent standard of living. More and more of them have lost their grip on the middle class, or their hope for entering the middle class.
There are some in Washington who claim they have the answer for Americans like these. They even think they have a contract with these families. But over these last few months, watching the House and Senate has been a little like watching a really bad double feature -- "Dumb and Dumber" followed by "Clear and Present Danger."
And nowhere is this more true than in the war over the budget that we've been fighting -- and will continue to fight for the rest of this summer and into the fall.
Nearly every government initiative designed to help trade union members and other working men and women is under assault.
And there's only one solution: We've got to fight this gang!
These politicians say that work should be rewarded -- but then refuse to raise the minimum wage . . . and actually raise taxes on 15 million working families by rolling back the Earned Income Tax Credit. We've got to fight this gang!
These politicians say they care about worker health and safety, but now they've proposed cutting OSHA by one-third, eliminating MSHA, gutting health and safety standards, and smothering worker protections under so many layers of court review that the only workers who benefit will be lawyers. We've got to fight this gang!
These politicians say they're for work over welfare, but now they've proposed eliminating a million summer jobs for disadvantaged kids who want to work. We've got to fight this gang!
These politicians harrumph about how Americans need to save more and plan for retirement, but then propose fencing in the government watchdog that protects the pensions of working families. And that's not the only watchdog they have in their sights. Even when they keep the laws on the books, they remove the teeth that give enforcement its bite . . . and undermine worker protection for wages, hours, working conditions, family and medical leave, and job discrimination. We've got to fight this gang!
These politicians say they care that corporations are downsizing and that wages are stagnating --but then they cut billions from education and training that help ordinary Americans get the skills they need to succeed. We've got to fight this gang!
And where do they want to put all this money? Into a juicy capital gains tax cut for the very rich. These politicians promise to put government on a low-fat diet, but they're serving up a different menu: corporate pork . . . topped with gravy for the greedy. Working people of America have got to fight this gang!
And this at the very time when the earnings gap between the rich and rest is wider than it's been in living memory. Working people of America have got to fight this gang!
And what makes things even worse is that many of the people who want President Clinton's job try to do all of these things while marching under the banner of family values. Family values. It's one of those alarm clock phrases. It rattles us to attention whether we like it or not. That's what Senator Dole did a few weeks ago when he denounced violence in movies, television, and music. He had a lot of important things to say -- but more than anything, he did us a favor by discussing family values in the context of the responsibility corporations owe to the rest of our society.
If what Senator Dole is saying is true -- that companies are not merely profit-making machines -- that corporations are citizens, in a sense, of our society, sharing the benefits and the obligations of citizenship, he has opened up a far broader set of questions than he may realize.
For example, if companies have responsibilities, don't they have a responsibility to provide decent wages to their employees? Corporate profits are setting record levels . . . the stock market is in the midst of one of the biggest bull markets in history . . . and top executives got another 12 percent raise this year -- not even including their stock options. Yet most paychecks are going nowhere. And all over America, loyal employees who have put in 10, 20, 30 years, are getting pink slips from companies that are doing well.
If companies have responsibilities, don't they have a responsibility to respect the right to strike and to bargain collectively for higher wages and better benefits? And don't they have a similar obligation not to bust unions or load employee committees with representatives of management?
We have a moral responsibility to ask these questions. We must explain what family values really mean, and not be cowed by the crowd that thinks it has a copyright on those precious words.
President Clinton wants to raise the minimum wage, because $4.25 is not a living wage -- especially for almost 40 percent of these earners who are their household's sole breadwinner. And he wants to keep his tax break for 15 million working families. That's family values.
President Clinton appointed to the NLRB people like Bill Gould and Peggy Browning and Fred Feinstein as General Counsel, because they understand collective bargaining isn't a privilege. It's a right. This threesome has reactivated the agency -- issuing more injunctions in the last six months than in the last six years. That's family values. And that's precisely why Congress wants to cut the board's budget by almost a third -- not to save money, but to tie the hands of this heavyweight champion of worker rights.
With this spring's executive order, the President said it plain and simple: we will not allow companies that do business with the government to permanently replace striking workers. We've guaranteed that if you are forced to strike, you won't be replaced. That's family values.
Some Republicans have pledged to kill this executive order. They were trying to revoke it before the ink was dry. But the Democrats in the Senate -- led by Ted Kennedy -- stood firm, and kept a filibuster going for five days to prevent the Republicans from eliminating the order. That's family values.
And while many of you use sophisticated machines in your jobs, the President still has a less high-tech tool he's prepared to use: his pen. If the Republicans try to weaken Section 8(a)(2) of the National Labor Relations Act, which protects the independence of unions, get ready for a four-letter word: V-E-T-O. Or if they try to repeal the Davis-Bacon Act, or roll back the Service Contract Act, the President will hand them another veto. That's family values.
He's done this sort of thing before. Right when he came to office, he eliminated President Reagan's and President Bush's anti-union, anti-worker executive orders -- PATCO, Boston Harbor, and the Beck decision. That's family values.
From the Motor Voter Act -- so every American can easily exercise his or her right to vote . . . . to Family and Medical Leave -- so every worker can get his or her job back after a family emergency . . . President Clinton has signed into law 32 bills supported by the unions of the AFL-CIO. That's family values.
Family values don't belong to them. They belong to all of us.
We honor family values every time we create a job. We honor family values every time children have a decent place to grow when their parents are at work. We honor family values every time we secure a working family's pension. We honor family values each time we make the workplace safe. We honor family values every time we move a young mother from welfare to work, or help a worker get better skills, or help someone who has lost a job to find a new one. We honor family values every time we stand with workers who are trying to organize a union.
The future of this nation depends on these kinds of family values. The future of this nation depends on your families. The future of this nation depends on your union and your workers. You are the moral and economic heart of this country.
Let's work together in the next year and a half to preserve what we have won. And let there be no mistake about what we're up against or what this gang is up to. They've declared war on working Americans -- and now they're setting off their bombs . . . Crippling workplace safety . . . cutting enforcement of wages, hours, and working conditions . . . gutting the NLRB . . . going after 8(a)(2) and Davis Bacon and the Service Contract Act . . . blocking a minimum wage increase . . . trying to reverse the President's executive order on striker replacement . . . slashing education and job training. And they say this is all to save money -- even though they plan to hand a huge capital gains tax break to the wealthy and hike taxes on the working poor.
We can't allow this to happen. In the name of working Americans, we can't allow this gang to triumph.
Steelworkers of America, you have been on the front lines defending working Americans for much of this century. And now history is calling you again. I'll be marching with you in this fight -- not shoulder to shoulder maybe, but my shoulder to your hip.
We'll be marching to turn back this tide of terror. We'll be marching to protect the right to strike . . . to keep our unions strong . . . and to guarantee that the places where we work each day are healthy, safe, and fair. We'll be marching for American jobs . . . for wages that can pay the bills . . . and for pensions that come through when retirement arrives. We'll be marching for millions of hard-working, tax-paying, law-abiding Americans . . . who do the heavy lifting . . . who get the tough jobs done . . . who play by all the rules . . . and who ask in return only a fair shake and the simple opportunity to lead a decent life.
We'll be marching, my friends, to restore the American Dream.
Thank you. And God bless you.