Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis
Remarks Prepared for Secretary Hilda L. Solis
Labor Rights Week Kickoff
DOL Great Hall
August 29, 2011
Buenos tardes. Good afternoon.
It's my pleasure to welcome you to the Department of Labor to celebrate the kickoff of Labor Rights Week and formalize important partnerships to honor and protect migrant workers in America. I'm so glad to be joined today by the Ambassadors of Mexico, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Guatemala. Bienvenidos y muchisimas gracias por estar aqui.
I'm also pleased to have with us several dedicated senior officials here at the Department of Labor. Assistant Secretary David Michaels directs our worker health and safety efforts as the head of OSHA. Libby Hendrix helps lead our Wage & Hour Division to ensure workers are paid what they're legally owed. I also want to acknowledge Sandra Polaski from the Bureau of International Labor Affairs and Sara Manzano-Diaz of the Women's Bureau for their role in making this day possible.
Later in the program, we will also hear from some distinguished advocates in the field of workers rights. Finally, I want to welcome all of you here today and those watching online across the country. Thanks for being with us.
This is such a special day. It's a day when we come together to honor our responsibility to care for one another. And it's a day that reminds all of us what makes America great.
We live in a country that has seen times of prosperity and times of hardship and sacrifice. But no matter the challenge of the moment, Americans believe in a set of core values that makes us who we are. We value hard work. We embrace diversity. And we honor the contributions of those who come to this country seeking a better life.
Today, we renew our promise to everyone who does an honest day's work in America. No matter how you got here or how long you plan to stay, you have rights. You have the right to a safe and healthy workplace and the right to a legal wage.
We gather here today to strengthen our shared commitment to protect the labor rights of migrant workers in the United States. Unfortunately, due to language barriers and immigration status, migrant workers can be vulnerable to abuse. We are committed to ending this abuse.
In a few moments, we will sign new partnerships between the Department of Labor and the embassies of Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic and El Salvador. These are pledges between our governments to work together to educate migrant workers about their labor rights and prevent abuses in the workplace.
During the past year, we've signed similar agreements with the embassies of Mexico, Nicaragua and Guatemala. Going forward, we will be pursuing accords with governments from southeast Asia to educate and protect their vulnerable workers as well.
We understand that many migrant workers in America are afraid to report mistreatment because it can lead to more abuse, the loss of their job or deportation. With these partnerships, we seek to remove these fears. The beauty of this program is its simplicity: We're making it easier for immigrant workers to come forward by partnering with the institutions where they are most likely to go for help their own country's consulates.
Our DOL Health & Safety inspectors and Wage & Hour investigators will work hand in hand with these consulates to correct injustices that migrant workers face. The consulates will help us communicate with workers who we might not otherwise be able to reach. They will put their workers in touch with our officials so we can investigate and stop abuses that occur. Migrant workers can call our toll-free "We Can Help" hotline at 1-866-487-9243 and report any problems they're having.
So I want all of them to remember one thing today.
Hoy, quiero que todos los trabajadores se acuerden de este consejo. Si usted no ha sido pagado por las horas que trabajas, te queremos ayudar. Llámanos. La llamada es gratis y confidencial. El número es: 1-866-487-9243.
I'm proud to serve in an administration that's committed to enforcing our labor laws for every worker in this country.
When migrant workers are made to work in unsafe conditions or not paid the wages they're owed, it has a ripple effect across our whole economy. Labor law violations create downward pressures on the wages and working conditions of all workers. Most American businesses follow the law, but we know that a few bad actors can gain an unfair advantage over their competitors. Today, we take a historic step to level the playing field.
As Secretary of Labor, I've heard from many business leaders who depend on the talents and work ethic of migrant workers. Despite the rhetoric of some politicians in Washington, we know our country relies on their contributions as well.
In two weeks, the United States will mark the 10th anniversary of the September 11th attacks. In the aftermath of that horrible tragedy, it was mostly immigrant workers who rebuilt the Pentagon in record time. More than 40 percent of the construction workers onsite were Latino. Most were Salvadoran. They had immigrated to the D.C. area in the 1980s to escape civil war in their native country.
They set an amazing goal to rebuild the Pentagon in less than a year. They worked 20-hour days They worked through Thanksgiving and many other holidays. They pushed themselves to the limit, because they wanted to show the world, "If you knock America down, we will get right back up." And on September 11, 2002, the E-ring of the Pentagon was rebuilt and completely operational. In fact, the project was completed three weeks early! I'm so proud of the Latino workers who labored night and day to make the Pentagon whole again.
Immigrant workers are an important part of the American labor force. They work in hard-to-fill occupations many of which are low-paying and difficult jobs. They also pay taxes, pay rent, buy groceries and more. We are grateful for their contributions to our economy.
Muchisimas gracias por su apoyo. Lo agradecemos mucho.
I'd like to close today by noting that today's signing marks the start of the third-annual National Labor Rights Week. Over the course of the next week, there will be events in 50 cities across America where there are Mexican and Central American consulates. Consulate officials will work with the Department of Labor, state labor authorities, labor unions, faith leaders and community groups
They will work together to inform migrant workers about their rights and the resources available if those rights are violated. The theme for this year's National Labor Rights Week is Women in the Workplace or "las mujeres en el trabajo." In addition to wage theft and safety violations, migrant women are at risk of sexual harassment, workplace violence and gender discrimination. This week's activities will show them how to file a complaint and how to protect themselves against abuse.
Today, I'm proud to be joined by Mexican Ambassador Arturo Sarukhan. His embassy started National Labor Rights Week in 2009, and it has grown into such an important event for the Mexican and Central American migrant communities. On behalf of President Obama, we stand together to denounce hatred, violence and prejudice and to recommit ourselves to protecting migrant women in the American workplace.
So with that, it's now my privilege to welcome Ambassador Sarukhan to the podium to tell you more about National Labor Rights Week Ambassador Sarukhan.