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

Remarks for Secretary Hilda L. Solis
National People's Action Annual Conference
Sunday, March 6, 2011
Washington, D.C.

Buenas tardes and hello national people's action!!

It means a lot to be with all of you here today.

Thank you Reverend Barnes for inviting me here.

Y muchas gracias Teresa for your kind words and introduction.

Friends, I come to you as a proud former state senator; a former congresswoman from the great state of California, and today, as the first Latina Secretary of Labor in the history of the United States!

But most importantly, I stand with you today as a person who was raised with very humble means; the proud daughter of immigrant parents; a woman raised by working people in a proud union home; a home where the values of hard-work, dignity, and respect bound us together; a home where a paycheck not only put food on our table, but represented our pride, our identity, and our rightful place as workers in this country!

Friends, we are here today at a defining moment for democracy.

Right now, as we gather in our nation's capital, people across the country and all over the world, are standing up for their rightful place in society.

They're fighting for justice; for dignity; for respect.

They're standing up for the very things that you and I believe are the cornerstone of our democracy — the unique promise that makes America a place where anyone, regardless of race, or background or sexual orientation, can make it if they try.

And folks, we need to stand with them!

This fight is nothing new to all of you. In homes and neighborhoods all across this nation, you have defended the rights of the defenseless.

You've given them purpose. You've given them a voice in places they never thought they had one. You've used the people's tool of community organizing to unite everyday people in cities, towns, and rural communities in every corner of this country.

Because you know, like I do, that America has a brighter future only if we empower and invest in all of its people today.

And, together, that is what we are doing.

Listen folks, I know times are tough. And I know the people and families we serve are desperate — some scared to death. I know they are hurting. And I know what that feels like.

But I also know this — now, more than ever, we need to pull together. In the midst of great adversity, we need to move forward! Folks, we need to keep going!

That's what Americans do — we keep going.

That's why, facing the greatest recession in decades, President Obama led the charge to reform our broken healthcare system; he led us to reform the financial industry; and he passed the Recovery Act — to get money into local communities — to all of you — to put the American people back to work.

And folks, despite what the pundits say we've made significant progress. Last year alone, we added over 1.5 million private sector jobs.

And on Friday, I reported the February employment numbers which brought us more good news and signaled that, thanks to the policies and programs of this administration, more people are getting jobs and that we are on our way to getting this country back on track.

And although we clearly have a ways to go, I'm optimistic.

When I took this position, I pledged to be a "new sheriff in town." And let me tell you, a sheriff is what we needed.

For too many workers, the workplace had become the wild-wild west with basic protections neglected and employers taking a "catch me if you can" approach to wages and safety and workers benefits and pensions.

Call the Department of Labor under the previous administration, and you'd hear crickets. The time had come to awaken this sleeping giant — and boy, did we ever. Why — because providing information and protecting workers and their wages is not only a moral imperative — it's my job! And I take that very seriously!

So, I set out to talk to people. Much like the ones all of you talk to everyday.

I listened to miners, fishermen and women, veterans, immigrant workers and dislocated workers.

And in places all across this country, I heard the same thing — people just want to pay their bills and they want to provide for their families.

They want good jobs, safe jobs, and they want to be heard. So I made that my mission: good jobs for everyone!

Folks, the Department of Labor has opened its doors to every working person in this country.

We've made it a priority to inform workers of their rights, and we've made it easier for them to report wage and hour violations because every worker, regardless of immigration status, has protection under our laws! And I'm proud to enforce them!

Under my watch, we've hired hundreds of multi-lingual investigators. And we've recovered $3 million dollars in back wages for working men and women all over this country.

In fact, just a couple of months ago, we recovered nearly $160,000 in back wages for garment workers in Los Angeles.

Look folks, I'm all for businesses making profits. It's how they hire and grow our economy. But enjoying high profits on the backs of vulnerable workers is not only unjust, it's not only unacceptable — it's illegal! And employers need to play by the rules. Period!

And that's why we've put employers who don't play by the rules on notice — because everyone deserves a safe workplace. I think we can all agree — no one should go to work scared that they may not make it back home safely.

It's why we've performed a record number of workplace inspections in places where over 5.9 million people are employed. It's why we've issued close to 200 significant health and safety cases. And it's why the Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued the largest fine in its history — more than $80 million to BP Products North America for hazardous safety violations.

These are protections working people need, they are protections they deserve and I am proud to be a part of a team that is delivering on a promise of justice, equality and of leveling the playing field for everyone!

And I mean everyone. And President Obama feels the same.

It's why we need comprehensive immigration reform! In communities all across this country, immigrants are making meaningful contributions to our schools, our businesses and, more importantly, to the prosperity if our economy! You know this.

It's why the President and I acted aggressively to pass the DREAM ACT! We got close last year, but believe me folks, we are ready and willing to have that fight again!

I'm proud to stand with President on all these issues. You see, like my parents, he believes in the value of a hard day's work; he believes in the importance of equal pay for equal work; and he believes in the value and worth of working people and the American middle class.

And in tough times — times when working families get hit the hardest — we need that kind of leadership; leadership that's grounded in the hearts and hands of working people; leadership that lifts working families up and that doesn't kick them when they're down!

It's why he championed a bi-partisan tax package last year that extended unemployment insurance for millions and included a payroll tax cut to help hurting families and generate job growth.

And it's why putting people back to work is a central tenant of the President's plan to win the future by, by you know it, out-innovating, out-educating, and out-building, our global competitors.

And investing in the skills of the 21st century is critical. You know this. And I know that all of you are working in communities that are doing really innovative things. I'm here to support those efforts.

That's why, over the last two years we have:

  • We've made $220 million available to help dislocated workers transition into new high-growth sectors like allied health and information technology; and
  • And we've awarded $114 million to community groups across the nation to provide Education and training to young people; and
  • We're providing $500 million for green job training — 150 million directly to poor communities — which will not only jumpstart our economy, but lay the foundation for our long-term competitiveness, and reduce our dependence on foreign oil.

And we haven't stopped there!

This month, the Department of Labor has announced:

  • $40 million in green jobs innovation
  • $20 million to assist youth offenders find pathways to careers and reintegration to a life of commitment to their community
  • $122 million dollars to community colleges and other organizations to help people pursue career pathways in emerging industries.

The President has made it clear that we will win the future when it comes to clean energy jobs. And we'll provide the kinds of educational tools and job training opportunities to make sure that everyone in America has access to those jobs.

The Presidents vision is one where business and labor work together; to grow our economy together; to create good jobs together and to win the future together!

Indeed only when government, business, and labor work together do the American people truly win.
And it is only when working people have rights and a voice and a seat at the table that they and their families, their children, and their communities truly enjoy the promise of opportunity America provides.

I know that not only because history has proved it, but because that's what my parents taught me.

And I'm able to be here today largely because of the benefits collective bargaining and unions have had on my life and the lives of my brothers and sisters. I've know first-hand their value to working families. And I know it because folks, I've lived it!

But right now, in states like Ohio, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, collective bargaining — the very voice of working people — is under attack. And the progress we've made — the very future we seek to win — it all hangs in the balance.

Because we know that American families — and our economy — only prosper when government and business and the well-being of working people are combined for a common good, where workers are dignified, respected, and are a valued part of the process!

Right now, they're being cut out of that process. I know times are tough. But I also know that tough times call for shared sacrifice. And budget cuts are one thing; but demanding that workers give up their rights, and sweeping the rug from under them is another.

It's not right! It's not just! And it is not what this country is about!

We need to pull together! And we need you to do what you do best. Get back out into your neighborhoods, towns and city halls and tell your stories. And tell those stories when you go to the Hill tomorrow. Remind your representatives that the proposed cuts will hinder our progress and handicap working people in every corner of this country! They need to hear it!

We will win the future. And to do it we'll follow the lead of one of my greatest mentors. A great man who defied the odds. Cesar Chavez reminded his people, "There's no turning back...We will win. We are winning because ours is a revolution of mind and heart."

Ladies and gentleman we will not turn back! We will keep going! We will be heard! And with mind and with heart we will win the future for everyone in this country.

I'm fired up! And I know you are too!

Thank you so much for having me here today!