Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis
Remarks for Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis
Middle Class Task Force Event – Bridge to Justice
The White House
Friday, November 19, 2010
Thank you Larry (Tribe) for the introduction.
I want to thank you Larry and Access to Justice for their work to bring this partnership together.
You have helped lay the ground work for making today a reality.
I want to thank Vice President Biden for his leadership and his commitment to American workers and their families.
As the Chair of the Middle Class Task Force, Vice President Biden is working with other Cabinet Secretaries to help raise the living standards for working families.
And as a member of the Task Force, I am honored to be working with you.
I would like to thank Attorney General Eric Holder for his commitment to protecting and enforcing our nation's laws and for his dedication to working families.
I want to thank both William Robinson, President-elect of the American Bar Association and Catherine Ruckelhause Legal Director of the National Employment Law Project for their tireless advocacy for workers' rights.
And I want to thank my Solicitor at the Department of Labor Patricia Smith and Nancy Leppink the Deputy Administrator of the Wage and Hour Division for their hard work to make today possible.
Workers across the country continue to struggle to obtain basic employment protections under the nation's minimum wage, overtime and family and medical leave laws.
And during difficult economic times, every dollar that workers are entitled to is even more crucial.
To protect workers and to ensure that they are paid fairly, the Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division has added 350 new investigators over the last two years.
These investigators are helping workers through both complaint-driven and targeted enforcement.
In a typical year, over 35,000 workers contact the Wage and Hour Division for help.
This includes 25,000 who need assistance with their minimum wage, overtime, or family medical leave claims.
However, this does not include the many more workers out there who do not contact us after their rights have been violated.
The Wage and Hour Division is able to help the vast majority of these workers recover denied wages or lost jobs through conciliation, settlement, or, with the help of the Solicitor of Labor, litigation.
But, unfortunately every year there are thousands of workers whose claims we cannot resolve because of limited capacity.
We recognize that we cannot remedy every violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
That is why Congress provided workers the right to pursue their own private litigation under these laws.
But today, thanks to an unprecedented collaboration between the Wage and Hour Division and the American Bar Association Standing Committee on Lawyer Referral and Information Service, the Wage and Hour Division will now connect these workers to a local referral service that will provide workers with access to attorneys who may be able to help.
In the past, the Wage and Hour Division would inform workers that even though they may have valid claims under FLSA or FMLA, it was declining to pursue their claims further because they did not have the capacity to assist them.
Attempting to exercise their rights on their own, or finding an attorney with the necessary experience and subject matter expertise to represent them, are significant and difficult obstacles for any worker looking to obtain justice.
That is why today's announcement is so crucial for American workers.
Beginning on December 13th, when an FLSA or FMLA complainant is informed that the Wage and Hour Division is declining to pursue their complaint, they will also be given a toll-free number to contact the newly created ABA-Approved Attorney Referral System.
If a complainant chooses to call the toll-free number, they will be advised of the ABA-approved Lawyer Referral Information System providers in her area.
The complainant may then contact the provider and determine whether to retain a qualified private-sector lawyer.
When workers call the toll-free number, they will enter their employer's zip code or their own zip code, and will be given recorded information on the ABA-approved attorney referral provider in the appropriate geographic area.
The caller will then contact the referral provider for assistance in locating an attorney.
And this phone system will be available in both English and Spanish.
In addition, when the Wage and Hour Division has conducted an investigation, the complainant will now be provided information about the determination regarding violations at issue and back wages owed.
This information will be given to the complainants in the same letter informing them that the Wage and Hour Division will not be pursuing further action, which will be very useful for attorneys who take the case.
The Wage and Hour Division has also developed a special process for complainants and representing attorneys to quickly obtain certain relevant case information and documents when available.
It is with these types of partnerships that we will be able to provide workers and their families with the protections they need to secure their wages.
Because I was taught that in this country "You deserve an honest day's pay, for an honest day's work."
Ensuring that workers in this country are paid for their hard work is what the Labor Department is doing every day.
And this partnership with the ABA is going to provide workers with another tool they can use to ensure a fair and secure future.