Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis
Remarks for Secretary Hilda L. Solis
California Labor Federation Biennial Convention
San Francisco, CA
July 24, 2012
Thank you, Rose, for that introduction and for waking up every morning for the last 31 years, clocking in and showing us all the incredible dignity of work. And brothers and sisters, thank you for that greeting. What a special night. I can't tell you how wonderful it is to be back with so many old friends. Many of you were there four years ago to support me as the 25th Secretary of Labor.
It has been the honor of a lifetime to serve with a President who cares so deeply about the middle class and union workers. But there's no place like home. And there's no place with more heart and more courage than right here in this room, with so many leaders standing up for collective bargaining rights and decent wages. I love you all. This is truly the greatest State Labor Federation in the country
I want to thank Art Pulaski for fighting and winning the big battles that matter to working people across our state. Only in California could a former supermarket clerk and Meat Cutter rise to become one of the finest labor leaders in the country. And only in California could the daughter of a Teamster and immigrant parents rise all the way up to the Cabinet of the President of the United States.
I wouldn't be where I am today without the California labor movement. So from the bottom of my heart, I wanted to come here tonight to say, "Thank you. Muchas gracias!"
Since my very first run for office as a Rio Hondo Community College trustee, into the State Assembly, the State Senate, and on to Congress, you've always had my back. And you better believe that I will always have yours. We have such a long history together and so many great accomplishments, but we still have so much more to do.
I'm proud to be joined tonight by a public servant with a long record of fighting for California's working families. Governor Brown has a tough job: to close state deficits while looking out for workers and our most vulnerable. I know there have been some tough contract negotiations in Sacramento. But unlike his counterparts in states like Wisconsin and Ohio, our governor understands that working people deserve a seat at the table. He understands that if students and seniors are going to make sacrifices, then millionaires and billionaires should, too.
We're unified in our belief that we must invest in California's future. I want to congratulate the governor on getting the bond issue for our high-speed rail through the Assembly. I know that wasn't easy.
Our governor stood up to the skeptics, because he knows this rail will mean 400,000 new jobs.
It will mean more profits for local businesses and more tax revenues to fund our teachers, firefighters and police. Every California community along that rail line will benefit. In other states like New Jersey and Florida, governors actually turned down hundreds of millions of transportation dollars just to make a partisan political point. They say they want to create jobs, but then they refuse to make the investments to do it. They're talking out of both sides of their mouth. But their loss is California's gain. We're going to put the dollars they've turned down to good use here in our state to create jobs, protect our environment and help our state's travelers.
Our priorities are based on our belief in community and shared responsibility. We believe the wealthiest among us should pay their fair share to raise the revenue we need to grow our state's economy. That's not too much to ask. It's wrong to balance our budgets on the backs of working people, and it's wrong to suppress the voice of the unions that protect them.
But some won't be satisfied until your voices are silenced completely. The Obama administration does not support outsourcing jobs, slashing wages, reducing health benefits or shrinking pensions. But those are the stakes this year. So it's time to get out those megaphones and expose the truth.
I know this much: They heard your voices today in Union Square! They heard four words, loud and clear: Bring. Our. Jobs. Home.
Every day in Washington, I wake up thinking about what we can do at the Department of Labor to help more Americans find work. Under President Obama, we've added back a half-million manufacturing jobs to our economy and 4.4 million private-sector jobs total. We have a unique opportunity right now to build on that.
But last week in the Senate, the other side blocked a vote to bring good American jobs back home. We want to give companies a tax credit to help them move their operations back to the United States. It was full paid for by eliminating tax breaks for companies that move American jobs overseas.
We believe in "in-sourcing." They believe in outsourcing. And I'll just say it flat out: We are right and they are wrong. We believe in exporting products, not paychecks. So we're going to keep fighting.
We're going to keep fighting for the American Jobs Act a bill that economists say would create a million new jobs. It's a bill that would invest $4 billion in California's highways, ports, rails and airports. It would invest $3.6 billon to help preserve 37,000 jobs for teachers, firefighters and police officers. And it would invest to $1.8 billion to put construction workers back on the job rehabilitating vacant and foreclosed homes.
We have to do more for our construction workers to create jobs and protect their wages. There's a law called Davis Bacon that has been around since the Great Depression. It says construction workers must be paid the prevailing local wage on public works projects. It says contractors can't bring in workers from another city or state and then pay them less than what local workers would make. Undercutting workers like this can devastate local economies.
I'm proud that my Department has tripled investigations of Davis Bacon violations, and we've debarred contractors who break the law. But leaders in the House of Representatives have tried time and again to eliminate this law. Fortunately, thanks to the building trades, we've gotten bipartisan support and beat back these efforts each time they've come up for a vote.
Are my friends from the building trades in the house tonight? Here in California, you're showing the nation how it's done. Not just on Davis Bacon but also on Project Labor agreements. PLAs get projects done on budget and on time, and they're a great deal for taxpayers.
But our enforcement efforts go beyond the construction industry. During my tenure, my Wage & Hour division has collected more than $740 million in back wages owed to workers across multiple industries. And last year, we collected $224 million in back wages for more than 275,000 workers. That's the most wages we've collected from companies that break the rules in the history of the Department of Labor.
When times are tough, it's especially important that workers are paid what they are legally owed. So long as I'm Labor Secretary, we'll continue to go after companies that short-change workers on overtime and pay less than the minimum wage.
Some politicians think the only way to balance our budgets is to turn back the clock. They say, "We can't afford unions." Well, here's what I say: We can't afford to turn our back on the workers who clean our communities, build our homes, teach our children, care for our sick and patrol our streets. We can't afford to fall backward; progress is made by marching forward. That's what we believe!
In states across the country, extremists have waged a full frontal assault on labor unions. In states like Wisconsin and Ohio, governors are using the financial crisis as an excuse to take this country backward, but you and I know that's the wrong way to go. We know collective bargaining gives you that seat to demand safer working conditions, provide for your families and enjoy a middle class life.
President Obama understands that labor unions are not the cause of America's problems. You are a huge part of the solution. You're training the next generation of skilled workers through apprenticeship programs. You're fighting for secure retirements. You're fighting for high-quality affordable health care. And with the recent Supreme Court ruling, we're finally going to get it.
We've got millions of folks across the country facing real challenges and anxiety about how to make it from one day to the next. Most did everything right. They got a good job, worked hard and met their responsibilities. But too many have seen their jobs disappear through no fault of their own. They never asked for a handout or a free lunch. All they ever wanted is a fair shot to do good work and get ahead.
These folks deserve better. They deserve to get back to work. They deserve an America where if you work hard and do the right thing, 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. They have a different vision for this country. They are rallying behind a budget plan that seeks to gut job placement and training programs at a time of economic challenge. They want to block us from working with employers to make workplaces safer. They want us to stop cracking down on wage theft, discrimination and worker misclassification.
Congress should be lifting up working people, the long term unemployed, and the middle class. They need to grow an economy that works for everyone, not just for the privileged few.
My department has made historic investments to link job training to emerging sectors like clean energy, healthcare, IT and advanced manufacturing. And we've made millions of training dollars available to support innovation and create career pathways for those looking for work. If we're going to out-innovate, out-educate and out-build our competitors, we need to re-train older workers, the long term unemployed and young people. That's why we need to keep the pressure on.
A lot of people are living week to week, paycheck to paycheck, even day to day. So if some in Washington think 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 our communities hurting...
We know that every day the obstructionists win is another day our communities continue to suffer... Another day families continue to struggle... And another day our children lose out on a better future.
We're not going to let that happen, are we? Are we going to keep organizing? Are we going to keep mobilizing? I know I am. The President will, too. So I hope you will join me in helping us meet this moment. Let's show them once again why the United States of America remains the greatest nation on Earth. Working together, there's no challenge we can't overcome. So let's get to work!
Thank you, my friends. God bless you. God bless organized labor. And God bless the United States of America.
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