Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis
Remarks for the Honorable Hilda L. Solis
Building and Construction Trades
Tuesday, May 1, 2012
Thank you for that warm welcome.
It's great to be back with the building trades! It's great to be with my labor brothers and sisters!
President McGarvey, thank you for that wonderful introduction. And thank you for your years of leadership, and you stepping up to take on even more during these challenging times.
As always, I look forward to working with you. I also want to recognize the entire governing board of Presidents and so many good friends on stage with me this morning.
To each of you: Thank you for fighting the good fight. And thank you for working everyday to improve the lives of American workers.
As many of you know, last Saturday was Workers Memorial Day. It's a day to remember all those who have lost their lives on the job. But it's also a time to renew our commitment to the health and safety of the American worker.
Last week, I had the honor of attending the memorial service for New York's fallen construction workers. I was invited to be part of the "hard hat" procession into St. Patrick's Cathedral. It was a very special ceremony with the families of the workers. And a moving moment for me personally.
I was surrounded by hundreds of our labor brothers and sisters as we mourned the loss of those taken from us too soon. Sitting there with my labor family, I couldn't help but remember another brother we lost this year one of your own my dear friend and your former president, Mark Ayers.
Mark was the backbone of labor and he knew how to build. He built coalitions, consensus and a great movement for workplace fairness. Mark built on the dreams of this membership
Laborers, painters, roofers, boilermakers, ironworkers... Electricians, pipefitters, teamsters, bricklayers... Plumbers, sheet metal workers, electrical workers and plaster and cement workers. And all construction workers to make the building trades a strong and articulate voice for working families.
Mark was a uniter. A fine attribute and something I admired about him very much.
He believed in the power of inclusiveness diversity. He knew it was our future. Mark was a strong advocate for community workforce agreements opening the door of opportunity to good jobs for everyone in the construction industry.
He was so proud and I am so proud of the amazing work the building trades are doing in my hometown of Los Angeles with project labor agreements. Is California in the house?
Mark was all about getting the work done on time, under budget and putting folks to work in good jobs.
"Value on Display Every Day" That was Mark's vision for the Building Trades. But that was Mark, and how he lived "values on display every day."
Mark stood proudly on the side of working people. And I was proud to stand with him. So was President Barack Obama. Mark shared our belief that this is a critical moment for working families and for our country.And his voice was instrumental to helping us meet that challenge.
He used to say: "This is our chance. We're getting our country back." He was right.
And Debbie Ayers I see you in the front row nodding your head. Thank you for your years of being Mark's greatest champion. And thank you for being here today.
Mark's legacy must not be forgotten. And before I conclude today, I am going to ask all of you to help me make sure we never forget it.
It is in Mark's spirit and in his memory that we press forward and continue to re-build this great nation. President Obama and I are committed to taking concrete steps to put America back to work. This remains our number one priority. And with your help, we've made tremendous progress. We are getting our country back.
We've gone through an unprecedented time. Remember that when President Obama took office we were bleeding 750,000 jobs a month. And the President took immediate action.
The President signed the Recovery Act which invested in mass transit, roads, and bridges to build critical infrastructure and secure construction jobs. The Recovery Act also included strong Davis-Bacon and Buy American provisions, to stimulate local economies and create high-quality jobs. In total, the Recovery Act supported up to 3.5 million jobs through the end of 2010.
Our President did the right thing. But still we know that so many people are hurting so many people are out of work. We know construction workers took one of the hardest hits and so did their families. Hundreds of thousands of construction workers lost their jobs in the recession.
So the President said let's put these folks back to work right now. He introduced the American Jobs Act. And I know you stood side by side with him on this.
He said, let's put Americans back to work repairing and building roads and bridges. Let's get construction workers off the bench and back on the job rebuilding and modernizing our schools and our communities. And you know some people said "no." They blocked this important effort for working people.
But our President never let up. And, he won't. This President is standing with you. You heard it from him yesterday. Whether it's in putting people back to work... enforcing Davis Bacon rules... supporting Project Labor Agreements... or fighting for your right to stand up and collectively bargain... this President has got your back! And so do I!
We know that a strong economy depends on a strong, growing middle class. And a strong middle class depends on a vibrant and organized labor movement. Workers still need a voice to demand dignity, respect and a seat at the bargaining table. And I don't know about you but it's a new day to have a President who believes in the value of having a voice at work!
A president who believes in the value of making things and building things again. A leader who believes in your craft. A President who knows that to create an economy built to last we need to invest in our infrastructure and in you your skills and your future.
The President's vision for an America built to last is one where education and skills training are afforded to everyone in this country. An America where everyone regardless of who you are or where you come from gets a fair shot at success if they try. An America where determination and hard work are rewarded with a good job and a fair wage. Where folks can get ahead and create a better future for themselves and their families.
So rest assured, we've got all hands on deck at the Department of Labor to achieve this truer vision for our country.
It's projected that jobs in the construction industry will be among the fastest growing in the next ten years. So we're working with community colleges, businesses, community organizations and union apprenticeship programs to make sure workers are gaining the skills employers need.
I've traveled all across the country and I've seen the incredible "state-of-the-art" training that apprenticeship programs can provide. From the IBEW to the UA and so many others I've witnessed the incredible partnerships that labor and management have created. You're leveraging hundreds of millions of private dollars to provide the skills that our workers need to compete for jobs in the 21st century.
And I know you share my passion for making sure our soldiers have jobs when they come home.
Since 2009, "Helmets to Hardhats" has helped more than 1,000 veterans transition from the military to the building trades. I know we've got some veterans in the house today. So I want to thank you for sacrifice and for your service to this great country.
And I want to thank the building trades for your leadership in helping these brave men and women come home to good jobs. I'm so very proud of this program. And I'm so proud of the incredible training you've provided to hundreds of thousands of apprentices putting them not only into good jobs but also on pathways to meaningful careers.
But you know perhaps better than anyone that in this economy, we've got to do more than work to create good jobs. They've got to be safe jobs, too.
Did you know: Each year over 750 construction workers die on the job. And falls are the leading cause of deaths in this industry representing about one-third of all fatalities. These are preventable tragedies that disable many construction workers, devastate their families, and damage our economy.
I know how dangerous your jobs can be. I know that many of you go to work everyday knowing there's a chance you may not make it back home. But I also know that you're proud of your trade. And that all you want to know is that someone is looking out for your safety on the job.
My department is working every day with workers, employers and stakeholders to do just that. After decades of preventable fatalities and injuries on construction sites, we recently issued a new Cranes and Derricks rule. And last week, we launched a new national public awareness campaign to protect America's construction workers from deadly falls.
And we're proud to have the building trades as a key partner and driver of this new initiative.
It will bring together government, labor, management, trade associations, faith groups and academia to educate construction workers and employers about their rights and responsibilities.
Our message is simple: "Safety pays and falls cost. So Plan, Provide and Train."
Every construction worker who steps foot on a roof, scaffold or ladder has a right to a safe worksite. As the Secretary of Labor, I have an obligation to protect that right. And I'm proud to do it. And I remain proud to protect the hard earned wages of all construction workers.
Worker protection is about more than safety. Worker protection is also about a fair days pay for a days work. This is critical to working families especially in tough economic times.
You work hard. And you deserve to take home every penny. So we're working to make sure every construction worker, in every community can do that.
We've hired a record number of investigators and recovered nearly $600 million in back wages for hundreds of thousands of workers. We are committed to Davis Bacon. We have more than tripled the number of Davis Bacon investigation since 2008. And we're debarring contractors with serious Davis Bacon violations.
Our message is clear: "If you don't play by the rules; there will be consequences."
We're also working with the IRS and many states to combat worker misclassification and ensure that workers get the wages and benefits they're entitled to.
Our enforcement efforts have a significant impact on all workers in this country. We all know that immigrant workers are being taken advantage of in this country. And we know that some folks are trying to drive a wedge between working people. But we also know that when one group of workers is pitted against another, everyone loses. That's why we're fighting to raise labor standards for all workers. And it's why earlier this year, we strengthened protections for both U.S. and foreign workers under the H2-B program.
As some of you know, recently we've faced some obstacles on this regulation, but we remain committed to protecting the working conditions of all workers in this country. And we all know that what we really need is comprehensive immigration reform so everyone has a level playing field. So thank you for standing with President Obama on our push for immigration reform. And thank you for your continued support on so many fronts.
As some of you know, my father passed away last month. And labor was there for me in so many ways flowers, cards. Some even traveled to Los Angeles to be with me as I honored my father's life and his legacy.
My dad was a proud union member. He was a teamster shop steward. I remember he would come home at the end of the day and ask me to sit with him at our kitchen table. From his pockets, he would pull pieces of paper with writing in Spanish on them. They were crumpled notes given to him by his co-workers.
There were all sorts of things scribbled on them. Grievances about health and safety. Questions about paychecks that didn't add up. And ideas about how to improve the efficiency and productivity of the line.
He'd ask me to translate them into English for him. At first, I didn't understand what they were.
When I asked, he explained: "They are the voice of the workers." He said that the paper scraps started a conversation between the union and management. So, it was from him that, as a young girl, I learned about the critical need for workers to have voice on the job and a seat at the table.
Mark Ayers knew that, too.
Much like my father, Mark believed that dignity and respect belonged to everyone no matter where you came from or what job you worked. Mark understood that unions are the way to a better life the way to restore the middle class, and to resurrect the American dream.
His vision for the trades was one where any person, from any community and any background, could participate and benefit from the good jobs the construction industry can provide. Mark imagined a revitalized labor movement built on the idea that we are stronger when we all work together.
That in solidarity, there is strength.
He changed the minds and touched the hearts of so many people in and outside of the labor movement. He never lost sight of our cause. And he never lost faith in the American worker.
Some of you have actually joined us at the Labor Department when we have inducted leaders into the Labor Hall of Honor. Indeed, it is one of the highest honors we can bestow on heroic leaders in the labor movement.
The Hall serves as a reminder not just of our labor history, but also of our continuing responsibility to the American worker. It is a place where we can learn from our past and draw strength for a better future even in the hardest times.
So today, I want to pay a very special tribute to one of our own. A true champion for all working people and a dear friend to so many. So on behalf of President Barack Obama: On this special day May 1st, 2012 I hereby induct Mark Ayres into the U.S. Department of Labor Hall of Honor.
Mark joins a group of trailblazers that include heroes like Frances Perkins, Mother Jones, Samuel Gompers, George Meany, John Lewis and Cesar Chavez. And I'm so proud that the next time you visit the Labor Department you'll see Mark Ayers listed in the Hall of Honor where he so clearly belongs.
We hope you visit soon. You'll always have an open door at the Department of Labor.
Thank you again for everything you do for this union and for our country.
God bless you. God bless working families. And God bless the United States of America.