Skip to page content
Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez
Bookmark and Share

Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery
International Brotherhood of Teamster's Women's Conference
Las Vegas, Nevada
Friday, September 11, 2009

Good morning, sisters!

Thanks to President Jim Hoffa for that very kind introduction and for the work you do on behalf of Teamster working men and women.

I want to congratulate Sue Mauren for becoming the new Chair of the Teamsters Women's Conference.This is her first time organizing this event and she's done a tremendous job. That's what happens when you put a woman in charge — you get things done!

Congratulations to the International Brotherhood of Teamster's Women! This is your 9th conference, and it's invigorating to see the optimism and enthusiasm of your members.

Teamster women touch our lives in so many ways. Just thinking about my morning, I flew here from Washington D.C., airline workers — pilots, attendants, mechanics — you are all members, And I understand there are some ramp workers in the room who are organizing with the Teamsters. We are all hearing the back to school stories in the media — school bus drivers are Teamsters. Are there some school bus drivers here that are organizing?

Wow! Is there anything Teamster women don't know how to do?

I'd also like to say that the magnitude of this moment is not lost on me. What a wonderful country we live in, where the daughter of a Teamster's shop steward can go on to become Labor Secretary! In many ways, I feel a part of this union. It was my father's membership in Teamsters that allowed my family to have health care and other benefits, even when times were tough.

My mother immigrated to this country from Nicaragua and worked on an assembly line at a toy factory for many years, earning minimum wage. She was also a union member — she belonged to United Rubber Workers Union, now the Steelworkers It was because of their union jobs that my parents weren't cheated out of their wages. And it was thanks to their unions that their workplace was safe, and that they could retire with dignity.

These are benefits they received through their union, but they are benefits that all people should have! And they are the benefits I am committed to delivering for all workers! You said it all at your rally yesterday: JUSTICE... DIGNITY... RESPECT. Now more than ever, workers need our support.

Today, families and workers are feeling a lot of uncertainty. We are facing the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. We were forced to take bold action and put the brakes on the economic free fall. Even though our economy is once again showing signs of life, we haven't quite revived her just yet.

Our unemployment rate is an unacceptable 9.7%, and for underrepresented communities this number is much higher. Women have a lower percentage of unemployment at 7.6 %, but this is not a victory for us. It simply means that more families are depending on women as the primary breadwinner. Yet women tend to have jobs that are lower-paying. Women still make less than men do, dollar for dollar! And millions of working women don't have one single paid sick day! These needs are the focus of my work at the Department of Labor, because the struggle of a woman anywhere is the struggle of women everywhere!

Sisters, let me tell you, you have a friend at the Department of Labor! I am working to give women the tools they need to find and keep good jobs. And by "good jobs" I mean:

  • Jobs that support a family by increasing incomes and narrowing the wage gap;
  • Jobs that are safe and secure, and give people a voice in the workplace;
  • Jobs that are sustainable — like green jobs — that export products, not paychecks;
  • And jobs that rebuild a strong middle class.

In this economy that's a tall order, but that's what our President is all about. And that's what I'm about!

At the Department of Labor, we have moved quickly to protect workers who lost their jobs and provide workers with training opportunities for those looking to upgrade their skills. We have extended unemployment insurance eligibility. Meaning that women will get an extra $25 per week to cover their family's necessities. We have also strengthened our social safety net, by extending COBRA coverage and reducing premiums. This means that mothers and wives can still get health insurance if they get sick! And

I want to be very clear on this point; I am personally making sure that funds go to the right places, so that women can take advantage of these programs! Our Women's Bureau at the Department of Labor is working with our other agencies to ensure the work we are doing keeps the needs of our women front and center. Our Bureau promotes 21st Century solutions to improve the status of working women and their families. They are trying to help women attain better jobs, better earnings and be able to live better.

As we help workers through these challenging times, our real focus is investing in their future.

That is why we've made $220 million available to help dislocated workers transition into new high-growth sectors, like allied health and information technology, and why we're providing $500 million for green job training. Women can use these funds to retrain themselves and take advantage of the new jobs being created! Without a doubt, the Recovery Act is helping pull our economy back from the brink.

I want to emphasize that safety and security are paramount to me and my Department — because you can't have a good job if it's not safe! Workplace safety is not only our responsibility, it's our moral obligation, especially since low-wage, low-skilled and immigrant workers are particularly vulnerable to workplace injury and death. No matter who you are, no one should have to die for a job. That's why, I'm adding 130 OSHA inspectors to my payroll, and 275 in Wage and Hour and the Employee Benefits Standards Administration. I will not be satisfied until there are no workplace deaths due to failure to comply with safety rules, and until wage and hour violations no longer exist.

Part of ensuring our future and the safety of our workers, is also making sure that they are able to organize freely. On that note, I want to acknowledge the workers of Republic Recycling Services who have been trying to organize a union with Teamsters Local 631. I met some of these brave women this morning and heard their stories. Will you stand up?

They have endured a lot of abuse — including working long hours without proper breaks, without proper protective gear and under harsh conditions. No one should suffer the intimidation they have simply for fighting to get basic rights in the workplace. And no one should have to live in fear of getting fired just for standing up for herself at work.

That is why I support your efforts to organize and form a union, and why I have pledged to work with the White House to make the strongest case for the Employee Free Choice Act. We know that when unions do well, we ALL do well. Let's never forget how much our nation owes to unions and to the labor movement.

Much of what we take for granted today — the 40-hour work week, the minimum wage, health insurance, pensions, Social Security, Medicare — they all bear a union label. It was labor that helped build the largest middle class in history, and who made our economy the envy of the world. In order to rebuild the middle class once again, we need to level the playing field for all working people — and allowing workers to form unions is a step towards that goal.

Let me also take a moment to talk about an issue that I know is important to every person in this room — an issue that's getting a lot of attention this week: health insurance reform. Today families and business are struggling with a health care system that works better for the insurance industry than for the American people.

While all Americans shoulder the burden of our unjust system, women carry a particularly heavy burden. For women, insurance premiums are often higher than they are for men, meaning that women often skip or delay the care they need because it's simply too expensive. This hurts women's health, and it hurts our economic security.

When it comes to the cost of health care, this much is clear: the status quo is unsustainable. Getting health care costs under control is essential to reducing budget deficits, restoring fiscal discipline, and putting our economy on a path towards sustainable growth and shared prosperity.

Now I know that most of you have good health care benefits because you're members of a tough, smart union. But imagine having a system where we all benefit — a system where companies are rewarded by doing right by their workers and where costs are reduced for all. Imagine what your next round of contract negotiations would look like if we could get health care costs under control and focus on wages rather than on benefits.

The President gave a great speech on Wednesday, but it's going to take more than good arguments, and even good ideas. We can't reform health care in America, unless people who care about working people take action. The opponents of reform have been organized. They've worked hard, and they've scared a lot of people. But if there's one thing that labor women know how to do, it's how to organize, and it's how to fight. And now, more than ever, we need you to join in the fight.

In the seven months in office I've had the opportunity to travel all around the country. I've traveled to 35 cities across our nation, and I have yet to meet one worker who wants a hand out. Workers simply want to be able to work. That's what I've seen all across the country and what fuels my faith that we will overcome the challenges we're facing right now.

I am more eager than ever to serve the American people and to lead the Department in creating opportunities for hard-working families. I fully recognize that this is an historic opportunity for working people in America. But I can't do it alone, and neither can the President.

The truth is, winning an election doesn't make change happen. Winning an election merely gives us the opportunity to make change happen. Today, right now, we have that opportunity, but it's going take work — some labor — to make it happen.

I know that strong women always help each other out, and I can assure you that I'll do everything I can on behalf of women, but we need your help as well — your ideas, your commitment and your energy.

As a daughter of a Teamster, I know what Teamsters can do, and I know what women can do.

I can't imagine anything stopping a Teamster woman, and I look forward to joining you in the fight.

Thank you! And si se puede!

# # #