Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis
Remarks for the Honorable Hilda L. Solis
International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers
2012 Legislative Conference
Tuesday, May 15, 2012
Good morning, Machinists and Aerospace Workers!
Thank you for that warm welcome.
Let me start by thanking my good friend Tom Buffenbarger, for being an incredible partner in the fight for workplace justice.
The Machinists and I go way back...
All the way to my days as a legislator in California. I see my good friend Matt McKinnon here is California in the house?
You've always led the fight for fair wages, safer workplaces and a stronger economy.
On behalf of President Obama and everyone at the Department of Labor, I'm grateful for this opportunity to come and say:
Thank you for your leadership and your advocacy.
Thank you to our manufacturing workers... .
To our aerospace, defense, and rail workers...
To our hard-working federal employees at VA, Defense and State...
To the contractors who do everything from fix our military jets to teach our airmen how to fly them.
And to our auto techs, wood workers, nurses, hazmat workers, and IT professionals.
Actually let me stop and say more about our federal employees that are here today. I know these are hard times. Too many folks don't understand the incredible work you do every day and the sacrifices you have made.
I just honored our DOL employees this past week. I get praised for the work we do at DOL, but of course its federal employees that are helping me and our President execute our mission every day
Thank you for your commitment, your talent, your hard work and your public service to this country!
Thanks to all of the Machinists
You do America proud each and every day.
Your work at today's legislative conference has never been more important.
We've come so far in the last 3 ½ years, but we've still got a long way to go.
We were bleeding 750,000 jobs a month when President Obama took office.
But in the last 26 months, we've created 4.2 million private sector jobs.
This year alone, more than 820,000 private sector jobs have been added.
And our manufacturing sector continues to lead our recovery.
We've added back nearly a half-million manufacturing jobs in the past 26 months.
That's the strongest manufacturing growth since 1995!
We still have a long way to go, but I don't know about you: I'm proud to work for a President who believes in American manufacturing. A President who said "no, we cannot just let the auto industry go!" We can't just make it as a service economy; we need to make things here in America to make this economy work for everyone!
The last thing we should do is turn back now and embrace the reckless policies that failed us in the past.
Even as we work, day after day on creating jobs, we know there are still millions of Americans looking for work.
I want to thank you for your critical role last winter in extending unemployment insurance benefits.
They spend all day every day pounding the pavement, sending out resumes and looking for work.
Without your help, we might not have been able to extend this critical lifeline.
Without your help, millions of families would have had nowhere to turn.
It would've meant fewer dollars flowing to local grocers, gas stations, retailers and other small businesses.
We would have lost $67 billion in economic activity this year alone.
But thanks to you, we extended UI and avoided a crisis.
But you and I both know there are more big battles to come.
We must continue to work to restore the economic security the middle class has lost.
That means creating an economy that makes things the world wants to buy...
Not an economy built on outsourcing, loopholes and risky financial deals.
You may have heard that President Obama came up with a "to do" list for Congress.
Tasks that shouldn't divide lawmakers by party and shouldn't be derailed by election-year politics.
These are things Congress should be able to get done by summer recess to help our economy and the middle class.
Things like lowering taxes for companies that bring jobs back to the United States.
We can pay for it by eliminating incentives for companies that are off-shoring jobs to other countries.
That should be a no-brainer, right?
Things like investing in American clean energy manufacturers who create jobs in America through new technologies and new fuels that reduce our dependence on foreign oil.
Another no-brainer, right? You would think so.
I hope you will make your voices heard on these issues.
The Obama administration wants to build roads and bridges right now to put Americans back to work.
We want to invest in education and training right now, so workers young and old have the skills to fill these jobs.
We want to export products not paychecks so America can thrive in a globalized economy right now!
I sit on the President's Export Council.
As you may know, the President set the ambitious goal to double exports in 5 years.
We are making progress
Export growth is up 34 percent, and one of the largest growth areas is machinery!
Manufacturing represents nearly 60 percent of total U.S. exports.
I know we have some Boeing workers here today with your hard work this company continues to innovate and build state of the art products the rest of the world wants to buy.
But we need infrastructure like the Ex-Im Bank to continue to support American manufacturing and American exports
I want to thank this union for your work to save the Ex-Im Bank!
We're thankful Ex-Im reauthorization cleared a key procedural vote in the Senate yesterday.
Hopefully, this week we'll finally get this bill to the President's desk.
It's unbelievable that some tried to target Ex-Im for elimination!
And they may have gotten away with it, too and destroyed tens of thousands of jobs if not for the people in this room.
I'm still perplexed how this could be turned into a partisan issue.
The most durable and sustainable jobs we can create in America today are export-driven.
The Ex-Im Bank has been helping American companies sell their goods abroad since 1934.
They helped finance the Marshall Plan after World War II.
They make good loans to create good-paying jobs.
These loans meet the toughest criteria.
It's a government institution the American people can be proud of, whatever their politics left, right or center.
President Obama refuses to place the burden of our national debt on the backs of those who had nothing to do with it.
He refuses to penalize working folks who've borne the brunt of the recession already.
He refuses to end Medicare as we know it and give seniors vouchers to buy private insurance on their own.
He refuses to cut Pell grants and education funding just so the wealthiest Americans can enjoy bigger tax breaks and lower rates.
The President understands we have to get our fiscal house in order.
But he believes everyone must do their part.
He believes if students and seniors are going to make sacrifices, then millionaires and billionaires should, too.
But it takes two to compromise, and we need activists like you to force the other side to the table.
This fight for middle-class values is not confined to Washington.
In many states, some are using the financial crisis as an excuse to take this country backward by attacking collective bargaining rights.
But we know that's the wrong way to go.
In places like Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana and Michigan, you stood up and defended the labor unions that built America's middle class.
American workers still want and need a seat at the table.
We know collective bargaining gives them that seat:
To demand safer working conditions... .
To make a living wage to provide for their family...
And to give them dignity and the chance to earn a better life.
The fight for fair wages and safe workplaces is very personal to me.
My parents immigrated to this country from Nicaragua and Mexico to give their children opportunities they never had.
My father was a proud union member who worked as a Teamster shop steward at a battery recycling plant.
When I was in 9th grade, Dad 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 violations and questions about paychecks that didn't add up.
He'd ask me to translate them from Spanish into English. 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.
It was a way to give workers a seat at the table and a voice in their futures.
So at a very young age, I learned how organized labor makes a difference in the lives of real people.
What makes this union so special is that you don't just fight for your members...
You fight for the ideals and values that make this country great and you are organizing!!
You stood up for IKEA workers in southwest Virginia who were denied bathroom breaks on the job lets give a hand to the brave IKEA workers who stood up for their rights and now have a voice at work!
President Obama understands that labor unions are not the cause of America's problems.
They are part of the solution.
Our President has been a strong voice for workers.
He has said over and over again and not just to labor audiences that we need to level the playing field for workers and the unions that represent them.
Because we can't have a strong middle class without a strong labor movement.
Know this: President Obama has your back, and so do I.
We'll never stop fighting for the American worker!
We'll never stop fighting for investments in our infrastructure, in affordable health care, and your right to a safe retirement.
And we'll never stop fighting to make sure your workplaces are safe and secure.
A few weeks ago, we marked one of the most solemn days on the calendar at the Department of Labor.
It was Workers Memorial Day a day to remember those who lost their lives while doing their jobs.
Last year in the United States, more than 4,500 workers lost their lives in the workplace.
Let me put that number into perspective for you:
More Americans were killed in workplaces tragedies in one year than were lost in nine years of war in Iraq.
Every day in America, 13 people go to work and never come home.
Every year in America, nearly 4 million people suffer a workplace injury from which some may never recover.
These are preventable tragedies that disable our workers, devastate our families, and damage our economy.
We know our machinists and aerospace workers are not looking for a handout or a free lunch.
You just want a good day's pay for a hard day's work. You just want to go to work, provide for your families, and get home in one piece.
We've come a long way, but we're not there yet ... because one worker death, one injury or one illness is one too many.
We've updated many of our practices and we've filed a record number of egregious violations; the word is out: OSHA is back in the enforcement business
We depend on workers to speak up when they see a hazard at work so last year we strengthened our whistleblower protection program.
We take the role of whistleblowers seriously.
And we've strengthened compliance assistance to help small businesses that can't afford a full-time safety coordinator.
The bottom line: We're doing more, and we're using every tool we have to make sure you get the protections you need and deserve.
We know there are some folks in Congress who will say "no" to anything the President and my department proposes.
The only job they care about saving is their own.
But investing in the American worker shouldn't be partisan issues.
Because as Harry Truman once said:
"If we can't get them to see the light, we're going to make them feel the heat!" I promise that as long as I hold this position, I'll never stop fighting for working people.
We're at a critical moment: We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well, while more Americans barely get by.
Or we can embrace the President's vision and build an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same rules.
The President will continue to fight for this vision of America, and so will I.
With your members engaged and involved, there's nothing we can't accomplish together.
Thank you again for everything you do for this union and for our country.
God bless you.
God bless our working families.
And God bless the United States of America.