Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis
Remarks for Secretary Hilda L. Solis
The Selma-to-Montgomery March
White Hall, Alabama
March 7, 2012
Good evening. Thank you.
Thank you Mary Kay Henry and Lee Saunders for bringing your troops here to stand up for what's right. Is labor in the house tonight? Please: Stand up! Brothers and sisters, will you rise and stand with me?
Stand up, AFL-CIO! Stand up, SEIU! Stand up, AFSCME! Stand up, CWA! Stand up, teachers! Where are my Steelworkers and Mineworkers? Stand up! If you are a proud member of America's labor movement, stand up and be counted!
Stand up as we remember the heroes of Selma who stood up against batons and fire hoses and injustice, Stand up for the right to vote. Stand up for equality and human dignity. Stand up for your right to a hard day's pay for a hard day's work. Yes, today, we make our stand!
Thank you, labor. Thank you for never forgetting what happened along this road 47 years ago when a group of ordinary citizens took a stand and rallied a nation's conscience.
Tonight, the labor movement and the civil rights movements are standing mano a mano once again. We are standing to preserve our hard-won progress here on the road to Montgomery. Thank you for making the trip today. Muchismas gracias.
Senator Hank Sanders stood up. He was a student at Talladega College and a foot soldier in the struggle for equality 47 years ago. Thanks to him, tens of thousands of people stand up and cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge every year. They do it to make sure America remembers the heavy price we paid to guarantee the right to vote.
Today, we remember the words of Dr. King, who said: "As long as I do not possess the right to vote, I do not possess myself. I cannot make up my mind; it's made up for me. I cannot live as a democratic citizen, I can only submit to the edict of others."
Today, we stand united against efforts to make it harder for minorities, seniors and young people to vote. The ability to vote in America is a right not a privilege. And it's not just any right. It's the right that gives meaning to all other rights.
So yes, we gather tonight in the shadows of history at a time of challenge and uncertainty here in Alabama. Last year brought fresh attacks on the right to vote, the right to organize, the right to receive a quality public education and, for some, even the right to hold a job or walk down the street without fear.
We're reminded of the Selma to Montgomery march a half century ago. During that march, President Johnson spoke to a joint session of Congress to introduce the Voting Rights Act. He said, "Even if we pass this bill, the battle will not be over. What happened in Selma is part of a far larger movement which reaches into every section and state of America. It is the effort of American Negroes to secure for themselves the full blessings of American life. Their cause must be our cause, too. Because, really, it is all of us who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice. And we shall overcome."
Today, that struggle continues. Alabama's immigration law, many people say, was a message to Washington. So in the spirit of bipartisanship, let's find some common ground. President Obama and I agree that Congress has failed to fix an immigration system that everyone agrees is broken. We know that having 50 different immigration laws in 50 different states is unworkable. We agree that we need comprehensive, bipartisan reform that meets our economic and security needs.
But we disagree with the approach taken here in Alabama, in Arizona, in South Carolina, and Utah. Not just because it is threatens to undermine our basic values of fairness and equality, but also because the No. 1 issue in America today is getting our economy back on track and laws like this harm everyone.
The people of Alabama are counting on their leaders to bring new jobs and new industries to the state and that means working together. About 90 miles west of here in the town of Thomasville, Mayor Sheldon Day and his team have brought nearly 1,000 manufacturing jobs to town in a matter of months. And guess what? The town has less than 5,000 people. Thomasville is 60 miles from the nearest big city. But they've attracted $250 million in capital investment, and almost all of it has been from international companies. A copper tubing company from China... a steel pipe manufacturer from Canada. These businesses were drawn in by the promise of an abundant, quality workforce.
It's the kind of recruiting success that small-town mayors or even big-city mayors dream about. But now Mayor Day spends hours out of his day dealing with what he calls a "huge distraction." Thomasville was on the verge of another big international deal when passage of H.B. 56 stopped it in its tracks. The company says it's going to wait and see now whether the immigration law is changed. If it's not, the company will take its jobs and revenue elsewhere.
This fight is about more than immigration policy; it's about Alabama's economic future. Mayor Day talks about the many hard-working legal immigrants in his town who fled the state out of fear. He says Latino workers have been instrumental to the local timber industry for many years. He says they pay their taxes and support their community. But now they're leaving and jobs and businesses are going with them.
We need a 21st century immigration system that works for our economy, our employers and our families. We know that America depends on Alabama's agriculture industry. But H.B. 56 has scared away so many hard-working men and women who work on the farms and in the fields. It has been especially hard on the state's poultry producers. Many Latino workers worked proudly in this area, and Alabama's farmers depended on their work ethic and their knowledge. But now they're facing critical workforce shortages. The Alabama Farmers Federation estimates losses of $63 million if farmers can't regain access to a stable labor supply. And that could just be the tip of the iceberg.
One study out of the University of Alabama says the law could cost the state 70,000 jobs and $2.3 billion in lost revenue. This is a self-inflicted wound. Alabama has an 8 percent unemployment rate. Government officials have a responsibility to pursue policies that lower that rate, not raise it.
There is still time for lawmakers to do the right thing for Alabama's economy. Until that happens, my department is letting all workers here know they still have the right to be paid the federal minimum wage. No state law can take that away.
And my department is also fighting the exploitation of Latinos and other immigrants who work in the state, and we'll continue to stand up for all of our Alabama brothers and sisters.
Your presence here today is critically important. Families across this state and country are hurting right now, and it's in our power to help them. We know the gap between the haves and the have-nots has been growing wider for way too long. We know the attacks on immigrant rights and workers rights are the wrong answer to the challenges before us.
Some elected officials think the only way to balance our budgets is to turn back the clock. They say, "We can't afford unions." Here's what I say back: We can't afford to turn our back on the workers who produce our food, teach our children and patrol our streets. We can't afford to fall backward; progress is made by marching forward.
Dr. King said, "Whenever you are engaged in work that serves humanity, it has dignity, and it has worth. It is a crime for people to live in this rich nation and receive starvation wages." President Obama agrees with Dr. King, and so does your Labor Secretary. We've worked for everything we ever got, and our recovery will be no different. Brothers and sisters, it's time for our communities to lock hands once again and continue the struggle.
So, I have a question for you: Did you bring your marching shoes today? I hope so, because we've got work to do. Brothers and sisters, thank you for standing up! Promise me you won't stand down. Not until hearts and minds are changed. Not until another great victory is won here in Alabama a victory that sends a message heard around the nation.
Please keep fighting. Keep believing. America is ready to work, and it's time to make our leaders listen. Muchismas gracias. Si se puede. God bless you, and God bless the United States of America