Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP)
2013 ANNUAL CONVENTION: THE SUMMIT FOR WORKERS' RIGHTS
U.S. Department Of Labor – Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs
Sheraton Downtown Hotel – Denver, Colorado
Good afternoon. And thank you, Teri, for that kind introduction.
It's good to be here. Itís good to be among friends.
I don't have to tell you that weíve had a rough few days, full of some pretty big setbacks when it comes to defending workers' rights. But the way I see it, after a week like this one, those of us who toil in the pursuit of civil rights and civil liberties have two options:
Either we can curl up in the fetal position and hide under the covers;
Or, we can come to Denver, meet up with 500 like-minded colleagues and start plotting the next great chapter in the history of workers' rights.
I choose the second option. And I know you do, too!
Office of Federal Contract Compliance
Programs Director Patricia A. Shiu
and National Employment Lawyers
Association Executive Director
Terisa E. Chaw at the Summit for
Workers' Rights in Denver, Colorado,
on June 27, 2013. - Photo courtesy
Of course, the news isn't all bad. Yesterday, our nation took a huge step forward on the issue of marriage equality, a seemingly inevitable – but once inconceivable – outcome to cases that have been working their way up through the courts for years.
I join President Obama and my colleagues throughout the administration in applauding the Supreme Court's decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act on constitutional grounds. And, as a Californian, I look forward to a lifetime of attending gay and lesbian weddings.
The truth is that our civil society can feel... a bit "Dickensian" these days:
It is the best of times. It is the worst of times.
It is the age of wisdom. It is the age of foolishness.
It is the epoch of Ginsburg... yeah, letís just leave it at that.
In other words, it's a mixed bag.
But you know what gives me hope right now? A Texas State Senator named Wendy Davis.
She gives me hope.
The daughter of a single mom from Fort Worth Texas, Senator Davis became pregnant at age 19 and a single mom, herself. Undeterred by her circumstances, she enrolled in a local college, transferred to a university and became the first college graduate in her family. She went on to Harvard Law School and, eventually, a career in public service.
Two days ago, 50-year-old Wendy Davis, stood on the floor of the Texas State Senate. She stood for almost 13 hours. She stood without water. She stood without a bathroom break. She stood and she stood and she talked and she talked...
She spoke about the responsibility of government to protect womenís health and our reproductive rights. And – with a little help from her friends – she managed to stand just long enough to help run out the clock on a special session of the Texas legislature. Through her filibuster, the gentlewoman from Fort Worth helped defeat one of the most restrictive anti-abortion bills in the stateís history.
I salute Senator Wendy Davis. I salute her heroism and her advocacy on behalf of countless Texas women.
And I stand with her. On principle.
But here's the thing about standing on principle: Like Senator Davis, you have to remain standing.
You have to stay vigilant.
The only way to safeguard the hard-won civil rights of the 20th century is to fight like hell for them in the 21st century.
That's what Iíve learned this week.
And, in case it helps, I was reminded by a colleague at the EEOC that we have lived through these kinds of setbacks before. And time and time again, weíve been able to overcome them.
Just a few years ago, a trilogy of court rulings – including the Sutton case – narrowed rights for people with disabilities. Those cases, however, ended up giving birth to the ADA Amendments Act of 2008. It was passed by a Republican Congress and signed by a Republican president.
Ledbetter vs. Goodyear effectively closed the courtroom doors to many victims of pay discrimination. That was until the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was passed by a Democratic Congress and signed by a Democratic president.
Remember that the work of forming a more perfect union is never finished. Two steps forward, three steps back, right?
I suppose it can sometimes feel that way.
But have you ever actually tried taking two steps forward and three steps back? I bet that if you keep doing it over and over again, your net trajectory will be forward.
You know why?
Because when we move backward, it is with hesitation and uncertainty. It doesnít feel natural and our steps, therefore, will be smaller. But when we walk forward, we do so with confidence and surety. Out strides are bigger and we keep moving ahead.
That's how progress happens. Not in a moment, but in a movement.
My friends at NELA, you are a vital part of that movement. And I am incredibly honored to have counted myself among the leaders and advocates of this fine organization. So, thank you for inviting me to be a part of this gathering.
This year, the U.S. Department of Labor marks it centennial anniversary. And as we celebrate 100 years of making workplaces safer, fairer, more productive and more diverse, we are mindful that we do not do this work alone.
We are joined at the federal level by partners in sister agencies like the EEOC and the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. Together, we are partnering and collaborating in new and unprecedented ways – sharing data, collaborating on cases, conducting joint trainings for our investigators, coordinating on litigation strategies, developing unified messages and establishing programs to educate workers on their rights.
President Obama called on us to come together in order to establish a unified civil rights agenda. And that is exactly what we are doing.
But the civil rights apparatus in the federal government is just one piece of a much larger tapestry, one that includes courageous workers, grassroots activists, social scientists, community leaders, elected officials and dedicated legal professionals like all of you.
The work you do is critically important to advancing civil rights. The cases you take on, the arguments you advance and the values you help to defend are inextricably linked to the enforcement actions of agencies like mine.
The Civil Rights Act, itself, contemplates a key role for private attorneys working in concert with government agencies like the EEOC, the Justice Department and the OFCCP. We are each critical legs of the same footstool.
Dr. King famously said that, "the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice."
There is a corollary to that. As President Obama likes to remind us, it "does not bend on its own. It bends because each of us, in our own way, put our hands on that arc. We bend it in the direction of justice."
That's the beauty of what you and I get to do every day. Long after a bill gets signed into law or the rallies in front of the courthouse dissipate, we are the ones charged with implementing the law, defending it and exercising its full potential.
I know this work is not easy. And often times we do it at great personal and professional costs. But we donít do it seeking fame. And certainly not fortune. We make the sacrifices and do the hard work because we are stewards of Americaís core values. We are the arc benders who make sure that every worker is afforded the full protections of the law.
I honor your courage. I honor your sacrifice. And we see countless examples of this work.
For every Susann Bashir fighting against religious persecution, thank God there is an Amy Coopman to stand with her.
When Leticia Zuniga Escamilla had to bear degrading sexual abuse at the hands of her supervisor she was all alone. But when she courageously fought back in court, she had Lisa Stratton by her side.
And when Sandra Knott had to battle cancer AND the California Department of Corrections, she had Jill Telfer battling right there with her.
This is what we do. These are the incredible workers for whom we fight. We bend the arc. We bend it for justice.
At the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, we have been in the arc bending business for quite a while now.
Our agency is the product of the great titans – folks like A. Philip Randolph, Dr. King and Dr. Dorothy Height. The OFCCP was established by Executive Order 11246, signed by President Lyndon Johnson about a month after the Voting Rights Act became law.
The idea was pretty simple: civil rights and voting rights have to be paired with workersí rights. Real equality means we canít allow whole populations to languish without opportunities to find good jobs, to sustain themselves, to support their families and to join the American middle class.
In the early 1970s, OFCCPís authorities were expanded by the Nixon administration through Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Vietnam Era Veteransí Readjustment Assistance Act.
To put it simply, our job is to protect workers, to promote diversity and to enforce these three laws which prohibit federal contractors and subcontractors from discriminating in their employment practices. In addition, we hold the businesses we regulate to the fair and reasonable requirement that they take affirmative action to improve employment opportunities for women, minorities, people with disabilities and protected veterans.
In the nearly four years since President Obama asked me to lead the OFCCP, I have been clear that taxpayer dollars must never be used to discriminate.
And if private companies are going to profit from public dollars, then those companies have an obligation to provide equal employment opportunity and strive to build workforces which reflect the diversity of the people who fund them.
I am privileged to work with nearly 800 talented men and women in OFCCP offices all across the country. They are on the front lines of our efforts to combat discrimination and uphold affirmative action.
Together, we protect the civil rights of the nearly one quarter of American workers who are employed by – or seek jobs with – companies that do business with the federal government. Those companies receive lucrative government contracts to do everything from constructing our office buildings and laying our IT infrastructure to supplying food on our military bases and providing legal services for federal agencies.
At OFCCP, the vast majority of our work is done through audits. Each year, we neutrally select about 4,000 contractor establishments for a compliance review. We send a letter asking for documents and data that these companies agree to provide to OFCCP when they accept their government contracts.
We then take a close look at the companyís recruitment, hiring, placement, training, compensation and termination policies. We follow up with a desk audit and will often conduct an on-site review to learn more about whatís going on in that workplace.
If we find a violation we work with the company to correct it. And, where we find discrimination, we try to secure make-whole remedies for the affected workers.
Voluntary compliance is always our goal.
But in those cases where we find egregious violations of the law and cannot come to a mutually agreeable resolution, we go to court. And we almost always win.
In the courtroom, we not only seek out remedies, but we also ask to debar bad actors from being federal contractors any further. This is a step we rarely take, but it is important to note that debarment is a powerful tool that OFCCP can wield to ensure employers comply with the law.
My vision for OFCCP, however, is not simply to litigate and conciliate. My vision is to try and figure out how we create lasting change in Americaís workplaces. Those workplaces are very different today than they were when the laws that govern employment were written in the 1960s and 1970s.
Government must also change and adapt its rules to reflect the realities of the modern workplace. That is why, in addition to strengthening our enforcement, we are pursuing an ambitious and robust agenda for regulatory reform. We are working to strengthen rules around affirmative action for qualified veterans and people with disabilities by setting real metrics for how we measure success. We are updating sorely outdated regulations that deal with sex discrimination and the employment of women and minorities in the construction industry.
And, of course, we are using the full power of the OFCCP to help close the gender wage gap in America. Earlier this month, we marked the fiftieth anniversary of the Equal Pay Act. I was proud to stand with President Obama on that occasion, as a member of the National Equal Pay Task Force. Together with our colleagues at the White House, the EEOC, the Justice Department and the Office of Personnel Management, we are committed to doing what it takes to close that pay gap once and for all.
That includes our recent announcement to rescind overly restrictive guidelines promulgated under the Bush administration which created arbitrary and artificial barriers to our investigations of pay discrimination. Instead, we have re-aligned our practices with Title VII principles, as they should be.
All of these efforts – from our enforcement to our policy work and our strategic partnerships with sister agencies – all of these actions are aimed at facilitating success:
- Success for the workers who just want their fair shot at getting, keeping and succeeding in a good job;
- Success for government agencies that depend on their contractors to provide a service on time, on budget and with respect for our shared values; and
- Success for employers who understand that government contracts are profitable, profit sustains business, business feeds economic growth and economic growth depends on harnessing the skills, talents and ingenuity of ALL workers.
You and I know that diverse workplaces are better workplaces. They are fairer workplaces. They are more productive and innovative workplaces.
And studies have shown that they are more profitable workplaces
Nearly 700 billion in taxpayer dollars are spent on federal contracts every year. And, as I said earlier, those dollars should never be used to discriminate. Rather, those dollars ought to be used to maximize success – for the businesses that earn them, the government that spends them and the workers who help pay them.
Since President Obama took office, OFCCP compliance officers have reviewed about 19,000 federal contractor establishments. Collectively, they employ more than seven-and-a-half million workers.
In the past four-and-a-half years, we have won more than $45 million in financial remedies for 84,000 workers who were affected by discrimination.
And all the while, we seek to make lasting relief – to correct bad employment practices, to fix policies that create barriers to equal opportunity and to get qualified workers into good jobs.
Since 2009, we have negotiated nearly 9,300 potential job offers for workers who were denied their fair shot at employment because of unlawful discrimination.
At the same time, I can report that, in 99.8 percent of our compliance reviews, we either find the establishment being reviewed to be in compliance with the law or are able to achieve voluntary compliance by working together to resolve violations.
I think that's a pretty impressive record for a regulatory agency.
As you can tell, we have a lot on our plate. And in a time of diminishing resources and arbitrary budget cuts know as the "sequestration," we've had to figure out how to do more with less.
It isn't easy and, frankly, it shouldn't be necessary.
But we have a job to do. The American people expect us to do that job well and the workers we protect expect us to have their backs. So, that is exactly what we are going to do.
Before I close, I want to mention one other important initiative of the Obama administration. As all of you know, in 2010, Congress passed and the president signed the Affordable Care Act. It was an historic piece of legislation that has and will continue to close the gap between those of us who have access to quality, affordable health care... and those who do not.
Opponents of the bill derisively called it "Obamacare." And, thatís fine with me. President Obama does care. Those of us who work for him do care. We are a nation of compassionate people who are not afraid to care for our fellow Americans.
Already, the implementation of the Affordable Care Act is bringing our country closer to providing universal health care to every man, woman, and child in America.
The health care bill supersedes the authority of any singular agency, as health care is an issue that is relevant to all employees.
So, I want to take a moment to update you on Obamacare, in the hopes that you will share some key pieces of information with your friends, families, colleagues and clients.
Under the ACA, health insurance coverage has been extended to over 107,000 people with pre-existing conditions, and 3.1 million young adults who are able to remain under their parentsí insurance plan up until the age of 26. Given todayís economic uncertainty, it is imperative that recent graduates not have to worry about losing health insurance coverage.
An estimated 71 million additional Americans qualify for coverage through private insurance plans for many preventive services. And they can do so without cost-sharing measures such as co-pays or deductibles.
And starting in October, millions of Americans will finally be able to access affordable health care thanks to a set of new Health Insurance Marketplaces know as "exchanges." We need to make sure that anyone who wants to enroll in these exchanges knows that they can do so by going to W-W-W-DOT-HEALTH-CARE-DOT-GOV.
Together, we are going to prove that it's not just Obama who cares. It's the American people who care. We care about ensuring that health care is a right for everyone.
In closing, let me thank you again for this opportunity to speak here. Given the enormous challenges we face and the incredible opportunities ahead of us, I can't think of a more important time for us to gather like this and discuss how we are going to move our country forward.
There is a psalm that says, "weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning."
My friends at NELA, I am here to tell you that we can't afford to weep. And you'll have to find joy on your own time.
Our prayer is – as it has always been – to let justice cometh in the morning.