(As prepared for delivery)
WASHINGTON – Secretary Marty Walsh made the following keynote address today to the U.S. Conference of Mayors 90th Winter Meeting:
“Thank you Mayor Francis Suarez and congratulations on your election to the presidency of this historic organization. I also want to thank Mayor Nan Whaley for your leadership and many years of friendship. Thank you CEO Tom Cochrane and the entire conference staff and leadership. Thank you to all the workers at the hotel who make these meetings possible. And to every single mayor: Thank you for all you have done, and are doing, to move your city forward under difficult circumstances.
“As you know, I have been in your seat. I was Mayor of Boston for seven years, including the first year of the pandemic. So I know how hard you are working. You are making tough decisions and fighting for your constituents every minute of every day.
“After being a mayor, I also know how important federal partnership is. The relationship between the federal government and America’s cities makes all the difference to our success as a nation. You are the leaders on the ground and for any national policy to work, you must be heard, you must be supported and you must be empowered. That’s why this President and this administration have backed local government from day one.
“President Biden’s American Rescue Plan sent $250 billion directly to cities, towns, counties, and school districts. We’ve gotten over 200 million people fully vaccinated – including 74 percent of all adults and 88 percent of our seniors. The data shows that our vaccines are working to save lives and get Americans back to work. So we’re not going to back down from protecting workers from COVID-19 in the workplace. We’ll continue to urge employers to establish vaccine, testing, and masking policies, and we’ll continue to provide the guidance they need to take these steps.
“The President’s policies have produced a historic economic recovery. In 2021, the U.S. economy added 6.4 million jobs – the greatest year of job growth in America’s history. The unemployment rate went down to 3.9 percent, the biggest one-year drop since World War II. Real wages have gone up for many of the lowest-income workers, and child poverty has gone down.
“And this President is just getting started. He said he would reach across the aisle to get results, and that’s exactly what he did. He delivered a $1 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to build a better America. This administration will work with your cities to deliver that promise. Rural, suburban, and urban communities, cities of every size: It’s an investment in your roads, bridges, and public transportation; your broadband internet and clean drinking water; your power grids, electric vehicles, and environmental cleanups. And it’s an investment in well paid, union and middle-class jobs for every single community in America.
“If the President can reach across the aisle and deliver an investment of this magnitude, then there is no reason we can’t come together and tackle any of the issues we face as a country – from climate change to voting rights; child care, elder care, and paid leave; universal pre-kindergarten, college access and job training; and the cost of healthcare and prescription drugs. The President has made clear that we need Build Back Better legislation to pass so working families can get the support they deserve.
“But as mayors, I know you’re not waiting to act. You’re tackling these issues in your cities every single day. And that’s what we’re doing in the Department of Labor as well, from myself and Deputy Secretary Julie Su to the leaders of every agency and our entire team across the country.
“We are focused on empowering all workers – morning, noon and night – in all of your communities. Morning means addressing the care needs of workers and their families, so they can go to work and thrive in their jobs. Empowering workers at noon – during the workday – means fair wages, safety and equity in the workplace, and access to training opportunities and career advancement. And at night, workers need peace of mind – so we protect health care coverage, retirement security, and unemployment insurance that’s there when you need it.
These are the building blocks for a lifetime of opportunity and empowerment. They are the issues we work on every day. And delivering them for workers has been our priority since the first day of this administration.
“At the Department of Labor:
- We implemented the President’s $15 minimum wage for over 300,000 workers on federal contracts.
- We restored protections for tipped workers.
- We are enforcing parity for mental health and substance use treatment.
- We worked across the cabinet to protect Americans from surprise medical billing.
- We took action to protect workers from heat stress, as we deal with climate change.
- With funding from the American Rescue Plan, we fully subsidized health care premiums for workers who lost their jobs due to the pandemic, and we invested $450 million to modernize the unemployment insurance system.
- And in 2021, we recovered over $2.5 billion in retirement savings, benefits and wages owed to workers.
“We’re also investing in high-quality training for in-demand local jobs. We awarded more than $160 million to grow and diversify Registered Apprenticeships. We expanded career services for veterans and their spouses all across America. We’ve made it easier for you to find funding opportunities, at dol.gov/grants. And we are re-imagining Job Corps for the 21st century. I need your partnership to make Job Corps the best it can be for the young people and employers in your cities.
“On every single one of these issues we move forward by putting workers first, and we succeed by listening to local leaders like each of you, to provide solutions that work for your communities.
“I believe genuine leadership starts from the ground up. It’s how I’ve always worked. As a state legislator; head of the Building Trades; or Mayor of Boston: It’s about listening, finding common ground, and working together. As Labor Secretary, my approach hasn’t changed.
“I travel across the country to meet people where they live – and where they work. I go to factories and farms, power plants and construction sites, coffee shops and childcare centers. I visit community colleges, union halls, church basements and chambers of commerce.
“So far I’m up to 31 states and more than 60 cities. I want to thank many of you for your hospitality on these trips. By now, I can tell you where to get great barbeque in Memphis and the best milkshakes in Wisconsin.
“And I’ve learned so much more. I’ve learned how hard-working people forge the soul of our nation.
“This week, we celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King Day. I thought back to one of my first trips as Labor Secretary – to Memphis, Tennessee. I met with members of AFSCME Local 1733 – essential public works employees, just like the men and women you work with every day. Two retired members made an unforgettable impact on me. Cleo Smith and Elmore Nickleberry took part in the 1968 sanitation workers strike. They told me what it felt like when Dr. King stood in solidarity with them, in his final days. They stood up for their rights, and they helped change our country.
“In Birmingham, Alabama, we launched the new $15 minimum wage with my friend, Mayor Randall Woodfin, at Kelly Ingram Park. Kelly Ingram Park is hallowed ground in the generational fight for racial equity. In the shadow of 16th Street Baptist Church, it’s a place where people came together to use their voices and find their power in the Civil Rights movement. You could feel the history in that park. And you could also hear the voices of today’s heroes: Federal contract workers like Carolyn Morris, a janitor and union steward at Maxwell Air Force Base; and Jamie Brown, a single dad from Mississippi who does customer service for the Affordable Care Act. They spoke up for their families, their fellow workers, and millions of other Americans they’ve never met. And our country took another step forward.
“In New York City, I visited the New Immigrant Community Empowerment center in Jackson Heights, Queens. I met nail salon workers, originally from Nepal, who are leading safety and health training programs funded by OSHA.
“I went to Detroit with the President. We met GM workers training on new manufacturing technology. They’re building electric cars and trucks, to win the clean energy future for America.
In Pittsburgh, Vice President Kamala Harris and I met with young tech workers. They are organizing – not only to join a union, but also to get more women and people of color access to their industry.
“In Atlanta, Mayor Keisha Lance-Bottoms and I met with women who work in home health care, food service, hospitality, and construction. They shared with us the challenges they face as women on the job, and we discussed the steps we are taking to protect essential workers.
“In Phoenix, Arizona, I was joined by Mayor Kate Gallego at the healthcare campus of Maricopa Community College. We talked with nurses and students about the impacts of COVID-19. And we talked about how we can grow the healthcare workforce with more training opportunities in Hispanic and Native American communities.
Last fall, President Biden instructed his Supply Chain Task Force to address issues at our ports. So in California, I visited the ports of L.A. and Long Beach with Mayors Eric Garcetti and Robert Garcia. We met with longshoremen, Teamsters and port employers to understand the challenges and work together to address them.
“Then we partnered with Secretary Pete Buttigieg and the Department of Transportation on a trucking action plan. We offered to help trucking companies set up an apprenticeship program in 48 hours, and in the first week alone more than 50 companies signed up. We are working to make truck driving a good middle-class career again. We are strengthening the supply chains that serve local economies all across America. And with President Biden’s leadership, we delivered a record-setting holiday season.
“I’ve traveled coast-to-coast talking with America’s mayors and America’s workers. These conversations have deepened my belief that our nation’s greatest strengths are the talent, diversity, and determination of our working people. And our nation’s future depends on how we support them now.
“The fact is, our workforce has been through a historic disruption: a once-in-a-century pandemic. They’ve experienced illness and death in the family. New levels of stress for frontline workers. Many others lost their jobs. Lost access to childcare. Working from home. Children out of school. Mental health concerns. People’s lives have been changed and turned upside down. Long-term trends have come to a head. And shifts are occurring across our workforce. I hear it from workers. You hear it from workers. And we see it in the data we collect at the Department of Labor.
“There’s been a lot of talk about a so-called “Great Resignation.” That’s not the real story. The truth is, workers between the ages of 25 and 54 are returning to the labor force at a higher rate than in previous recoveries. America is back to work. And our workforce is growing. But much more is going on beneath the surface.
Patterns of work in America are changing. We have to drill down to understand and meet this moment, and that’s what we’re doing.
“For example, many older workers are retiring. The St. Louis Federal Reserve found that, as of last August, over 2.4 million more people retired than would have done under normal conditions. So at the Department of Labor, we are strengthening the systems that help workers retire with security and dignity. And for older Americans who want to work, we are making sure they have access to employment services – and freedom from age discrimination.
“In addition to retirements, we are also seeing more people go into business for themselves. In 2021, the number of self-employed workers grew by over seven percent. We want to empower all workers, whether as employees or as entrepreneurs. So if someone in your community wants to learn a new skill and start a business, we can connect them to training programs, health care, unemployment insurance, and retirement planning as well.
“For many working families, the challenge is childcare, and the impact falls overwhelmingly on women. In 2020, 1.6 million mothers left the workforce – including nine percent of working moms with children under the age of six. Too many of those women still have no choice but to provide direct, unpaid care for their families. So this administration is investing in the workers of the care economy. We are investing in new career pathways for women. And we are working with employers to highlight the benefits of providing paid leave and pro-worker policies. But as the President has made clear in his Build Back Better agenda, this is a national challenge that calls for a national solution. We need quality, affordable childcare for every family in every community.
“And when it comes to resignations, we need to be clear: This is not a trend spread evenly across our economy. High quit rates are concentrated in industries with the lowest wages; the highest exposure to COVID; and workers who are disproportionately women, people of color, and immigrants. It’s an issue of job quality and it’s an issue of equity. So we are prioritizing the most vulnerable workers for health, safety, and wage protections.
“We are fighting discrimination. And we are funding training programs designed to reach the workers who have been shut out in the past and provide them with real pathways into the middle class.
“The challenges are clear. But at the same time, these labor dynamics are also putting more workers in the driver’s seat. And that’s a good thing. The data shows that workers are resigning to take new, and often better paying, jobs. We’re seeing more labor activity – and the highest public support for unions in over 50 years.
“At this moment in time, our workforce is recovering from the impact of a pandemic. But this is not a “labor shortage.” In fact, more people joined the labor force last year than at any time in 25 years. And one thing is absolutely clear: Americans want to work. Don’t believe anyone who tells you they don’t.
“The changes we’re seeing are not negative. They are driven by the hopes and dreams of America’s workers. And they boil down to one thing: opportunity. Workers are seeking better opportunities in ways we haven’t seen in decades. They are looking for opportunities to learn the skills they need. They want a seat at the table. They are demanding better pay, safer working conditions, more benefits and flexibility. They want to provide security for their families, now more than ever. And they also want to be able to spend time with them.
“I think of workers I met like Leslie Cotton in Portland, Oregon. She was living with her elderly dad, helping to care for her disabled brother, and barely getting by in low-wage jobs. She found a better opportunity in a pre-apprentice program called Oregon Tradeswomen, funded in partnership with the Department of Labor. Now she’s a union plumber with a middle-class wage, a good health plan, and a future pension.
“I also think of Chloe Morgan, a working mom that Mayor Whaley introduced me to in Dayton. She told me about the struggle to find stable, quality, childcare for her young boys – and the struggle to pay for it on her wages from a big-box retail store.
“Everyone agrees: our economy’s future depends on the strength of our labor force. But the burden can’t always fall on workers alone. This is a challenge facing employers in every industry and policymakers at every level of government. It’s on all of us. And we have to work together to meet this moment.
“That’s our focus at the Department of Labor. We are leveraging the department’s unique role to address the needs of America’s workers and America’s economy at this crucial moment in America’s history. And we are committed to partnering with you – and with businesses, unions, and everyone invested in our workforce – on solutions that work for your communities.
“So today, in front of my fellow mayors, I am proud to announce the Biden-Harris administration’s Good Jobs initiative.
“The President has made good, middle-class jobs – with equity and access for all – the heart of his economic agenda. The Good Jobs Initiative is an effort, led by the Department of Labor, to make sure we deliver on that goal in everything we do.
“We are going to work across federal agencies to build job quality standards into government contracting and grant making. That means not just minimum wages but prevailing wages, paid leave, registered apprenticeships, and pre-apprenticeships that open up opportunities for women, people of color, and underserved communities.
“We’re also going to engage employers to help them improve job quality, so every industry can attract and retain the talent it needs.
“We’re going to speak directly to workers – making sure they have the information they need to exercise their rights, find good jobs, and get in-demand skills.
“And we are going to reach out to local, county, and state leaders to understand what you need to create good jobs in your cities and towns. In fact, I want to take this opportunity to ask you, personally, for your partnership with the Good Jobs initiative. You know the needs in your community. You know your employers and your workforce. We can be the bridge to help you create good jobs. That’s going to help you grow your local economies, and it’s going to help our nation meet this moment.
“Working people across America are looking for better opportunities. They are fighting for their American Dream. That’s what the labor dynamics show. And in this historic recovery, with this President’s leadership, we can work together to provide those opportunities. We can rebuild the American Dream for this generation and those to come. And America’s workers can build a bright future for their families, their communities, and their country.
“These are challenging times, but mayors know how to tackle big challenges. It’s about understanding what’s at stake in people’s lives; finding common ground and collaborating; and moving with urgency to meet the moment.
“That’s why the U.S. Conference of Mayors is such a unique organization. It’s a nationwide group of leaders who are in direct contact with the residents of your cities every single day. And it’s been an important influence on me.
“When you first get elected mayor, there’s that lonely moment. You have your support system, but nobody else sits in that seat with you. It wasn’t like my first year as a state legislator, when you come in with a freshman class. I missed that sisterhood and brotherhood – until I went to this meeting, of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. That’s when I found my people. I bonded with mayors from across the country. We tackled the toughest issues together, from opioids to inequality, from housing to climate change. We learned from each other. We leaned on each other. We were there for each other when tragedy struck our cities. And we kept the people we serve at the forefront of everything we do.
“Now, I’ve gotten to see your passion and dedication from a whole new perspective, as Labor Secretary. I’ve seen it in Dallas, Texas; Gary, Indiana; Scranton, Pennsylvania; Louisville, Kentucky; and Rochester Hills, Michigan. I’ve seen mayors rolling up their sleeves every day, no matter what, and fighting for your communities.
“This administration is fighting by your side. And don’t tell anyone I said this, but the President holds a special place in his heart for mayors. I know, because he put four of us in his cabinet.
“Every day, I bring our experience as mayors to the work of the Labor Department. I think about what you need to do your job. I think about what your residents need to thrive. I think about how we can work together to build a better America in every single community. And I want to thank you for your partnership, your friendship, and your support.