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Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez
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Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery
“Farmworker Fighter Award of the Year"

Adult Migrant Program and Services,
National Farmworker Jobs Program Annual Conference

September 9, 2010
Melbourne, Florida

Thank you David Strauss for that warm introduction.

And thank you for your work on behalf of the farm worker community.

It's great to be here with all of you.

Many people don't realize but my father was a farm worker in the Bracero program.

He never really spoke about it, but I know it profoundly changed him.

Like many Californians, I know many families and communities that trace their histories to working in the fields.

I understand the plight of farm workers and their struggles for equal treatment.

In my younger days, Cesar Chavez inspired me and the world by simply saying: "Si Se Puede" friend Dolores Huerta had her ribs broken in the same struggle, but never lost her spirit.

Over time, I've had the privilege of working alongside many farmworker advocates, like David Strauss — AFOP's Executive Director, as well as with many other organizations like Farmworker Justice and the United Farm Workers, among others.

And as a former lawmaker I spearheaded legislation to better the lives of farmworkers, by working to protect their health, their education, and their wages.

Many of our working men and women endure injustices in the workplace.

They encounter unsafe working conditions and put up with abuse from their employers often risking their lives in pursuit of their livelihood.

As Secretary of Labor, I am committed to ensuring workers are safe.

Workplace safety is not only our responsibility, it's our moral obligation.

It is why we fight for your labor rights...your safety and wages... because your life does not have a price tag.

The Department of Labor has been able to dramatically increase enforcement efforts on behalf of farm workers and their families.

Our Wage and Hour Division's agricultural enforcement includes the enforcement of temporary labor camp and field sanitation standards, among others.

It also includes child labor rules.

I have asked my staff to turn their attention to strengthening the regulatory protections for those children who work in agriculture including beefing up fines for violations and engaging in surprise visits.

We cannot put a price on the health and safety of a child, or on the value of a positive work experience.

I'm also proud to say that my 2011 budget request includes over $87 million for the Migrant and Seasonal Farmworker Program, which is an increase of $2.8 million from 2010.

And as you many of you know, Florida was the recipient of more than $4 million in National Farmworker Jobs Program grants.

We are also engaged in other efforts to help farmworkers.

We recently, announced a new rule regarding temporary agriculture worker program — or H2A visas.

The new rule makes it possible for all those who are working hard on American soil to get fair pay while at the same time expanding opportunities for U.S. workers.

And, the Department of Labor will now exercise its authority to certify applications for U Visas as a means to encourage immigrant victims to report violent crimes and serious exploitation to law enforcement officers without fear of deportation.

I'm talking about workers who suffer abuse — physical and mental... victims of rape, or other crimes at the workplace.

Our investigators will be looking to identify potential U Visa applicants as they conduct workplace investigations.

We are taking action!

And, we will not forget about the people who pick our fruits and vegetables and provide us the food on our kitchen tables.

But, we need you to help.

Although the Department of Labor has hundreds of investigators, they cannot go to every job site in this country.

That is why we must work together. You are our eyes and ears.

And, we need to change the laws that don't work.

We know the immigration system is broken and the need for reform is now.

That's why Republicans and Democrats must work together to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

And more importantly, we need you to participate, stay involved and become informed of the process.

President Obama and I are fully aware of the struggles that families all across our country are facing.

We know that mothers and fathers are worried about how to pay their bills and put food on the table.

These people are on our minds every single day.

We have made some significant strides, and we know that relief cannot come fast enough.

We are not satisfied and we won't be until every person who wants to work can find a job!

The road ahead is still long — the Recession didn't happen overnight — it will take some more time to turn it around but we are going to turn it around — I am confident that we are headed in the right direction.

We are making the changes we came here to do — to help restore our country into the global leader that we can all be part of.

I want you all to know that you have a friend in President Obama and you have many friends at the Department of Labor.

We are here to serve you!

Thank you AFOP and the Florida Department of Education for recognizing my work and your commitment to help farmworkers in the United States.

Muchísimas gracias y Si Se Puede!