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

Remarks for the Honorable Hilda L. Solis
Partnership for Working Families
Friday, October 14, 2011
Washington, DC

Good afternoon everyone! Buenas tardes!

Thank you, Leslie for that wonderful introduction.

And thank you all for that warm welcome. Welcome to Washington!

I know we've got folks from all over the country here today. We've got organizers, community leaders, and faith leaders. And how about Labor? Where's Labor? Is Labor in the house today?

Thank you all for being here.

Every day you're building a movement for change outside of Washington — one that's bigger than Washington. Even in the toughest of times, you've kept organizing. You've kept training. You've kept growing. You've kept fighting for jobs, for fairness, opportunity and the values that created the middle class in this country.

And if anyone here today ever thinks for a moment that your activism doesn't change lives, think again. Your work matters. So you need to know that we support you. President Obama and I — this entire administration — we believe in what you are doing and we are with you.

And look, our work together has never been more important. Working families need a voice now more than ever.

We've gone through an unprecedented time in our history. We have not seen anything like this in our lifetimes — a financial crisis that is as bad as anything since the Great Depression, followed by a recession that is deep and lasting and that has hurt a lot of people.

We've got millions of folks across the country facing real challenges, uncertainty and anxiety about how to make it from one day to the next.

And many of them did everything right — got a good job, worked hard, met their responsibilities. But too many of them, have seen those jobs disappear through no fault of their own. I'm talking about teachers, construction workers hotel workers and sanitation workers who never asked for a hand out or a free lunch. All they've ever wanted is a fair shot — to do good work and get ahead.

These folks deserve better. They want to get back to work. They want an America where if you work hard and do right by your community, you can get a good job with a good wage and make it into the middle class. You can buy a car, buy a home, send your kids to college and save for retirement.

That's the America you want. That's the America I want. And that's' the America President Obama wants.

But some people in Washington — you know who they are — seem to want a different America.

An America where the rich get richer and everyone else is left to fend for themselves.

For over a month now, President Obama has been traveling across the country to make the case for the American Jobs Act. It's a plan to re-build America, put people back to work and put more money in your pockets to re-grow our economy. And independent economists have said the American Jobs Act would create up to nearly 2 million jobs next year.

But on Tuesday night, every Republican in the U.S. Senate voted to block this bill from passing. They said "no" to jobs. They said "no" to jobs for teachers; "no" to jobs for cops and firefighters; "no" to jobs for construction workers and veterans; "no" to summer jobs for youth; "no" to tax cuts for small business owners and middle-class Americans.

Tell me folks, is that the America you want? It certainly isn't the one I want.

Republicans have a different vision for this country. They're trying to pass a government funding bill that guts job placement and training programs at a time of 9 percent unemployment. A funding bill that would block us from working with employers to fix safety hazards before workers get hurt or killed. A funding bill that prohibits the use of project labor agreements and that would allow wage theft, discrimination and worker misclassification.

Evidently, they don't hear you. Congress has to do more — a lot more — to lift up working people, the long term unemployed, and the middle class. They need to build a new economy that works for everyone, not just for the few.

It's time to raise your voices so they can't miss our message.

They should be focused on efforts like yours to:

  • To put construction workers back on the job, to rebuild urban communities and green our cities;
  • To keep first-responders and all public servants securely on the job;
  • To clean up our ports, provide good jobs to the truckers who use them and clean air to the children who play in neighborhoods around them.

I know a little bit about this. I grew up next door to 5 polluted landfills, 17 gravel pits and one Superfund site in a small suburb of Los Angeles. My siblings and I, we lived in the thick of it. It was dirty and the air wasn't always fit to breath. Meanwhile, Hollywood — and all the glamour that comes with it — was just a few miles away. In area code 90210, there were zero landfills, zero gravel pits and zero chemical plants.

I grew up with this kind of inequality and it became something I would later fight to abolish.

In 1997, as a state Senator in California, I passed landmark legislation to protect low-income and minority communities from newly located landfills and other pollution sources. And as a member of Congress, I authored the Green Jobs Act to provide federal money for green job training. I'm proud that this partnership is fighting to secure environmental justice for our most vulnerable communities.

I am a product of the environmental movement. But I'm also a product of the women's movement, the labor movement, the social justice movement. And I grew up in a proud union home.

I'm proud of all that. It is what defines me and shapes everything I do as Labor Secretary.

I know that a strong economy depends on a strong, growing middle class. And developing a strong middle class depends on a vibrant and organized labor movement.

I know that the recovery of our economy and our nation depends on good jobs that can support a family by increasing incomes; jobs that are safe and secure, and jobs that give people a voice in the workplace. We need jobs that are sustainable, innovative and that create career opportunities for ex-offenders, at-risk youth, women, veterans and their families.

That's we've fought hard to protect Davis-Bacon. Just this year, the House majority has voted to undermine Davis-Bacon protections and Project Labor Agreements five times. And thanks to the leadership of the Building and Construction Trades, we've won all five times. We know that PLA's protect workers increase efficiency and contribute to our economy. That's why, since day one, our President has continued to encourage them.

We've made historic investments to link job training to emerging sectors like clean energy, healthcare, IT and advanced manufacturing. We've continued to promote union apprenticeship programs. And we've made millions of training dollars available to private/public sector partnerships that support innovation; green jobs; and that create career pathways for millions of unemployed workers. If we're really going to out-innovate, out-educate and out-build our competitors we also need to re-train older workers, the long term unemployed and young people.

And we've got to do more.

That's why we need to keep the pressure on Congress to pass the American Jobs Act. And we need your help.

These are tough times, and a lot of people are living week to week, paycheck to paycheck, even day to day. They need action, and they need it now.

So if Washington thinks this fight is over, we've got news for them: Not this time. Not with so many Americans out of work. Not with so many folks in your communities hurting. We will not take no for an answer.

We need you to go back home and start talking. We need each and every one of you to go home and talk to your elected officials and talk to your members of Congress. Email them, tweet them, find them on facebook. We need you to lift your voices in your workplaces, in your neighborhoods and at your churches.

We need you to keep the pressure on so Congress meets its responsibilities and actually does something to put people back to work and improve the economy.

We need you to force Congress to make a choice on whether they think that we should keep teachers out of work -- or put them back in the classroom where they belong. They'll need to make a choice on whether they think that construction workers should sit back while our roads and bridges are falling apart. Or whether we should put these men and women back to work rebuilding America.

Because you know that every day Congress doesn't act on jobs is another day our communities continue to suffer, another day our families continue to struggle, another day our children lose out on a better future.

And we're not going to let that happen, right? Are we going to keep organizing? Are we going to keep mobilizing? Are we going to keep fighting for what we know is right?

I know I am. The President will, too.

So I hope you will join me in helping us meet this moment.

Let's get to work putting the American people back to work. And let's show once again why the United States of America remains the greatest nation on Earth.

Thank you.