Remarks by Acting Secretary of Labor Julie Su at an Event to Promote Good Jobs for All (As Delivered)

Chicago, IL
May 23, 2024

Thank you all so much, and good morning. It is so wonderful to look out and see all of you.

Tamara, thank you for your story. Thank you for your honesty. Thank you for your perseverance, your guts, and your call for change. We need to make all of those things happen. And I am here because it’s stories like yours that makes today’s announcement and all of our work so meaningful.

I also want to recognize IDOT’s Brandy Phillips. Brandy, where did you go? Thank you so much for your leadership in this and also to IDOT Secretary Omer Osman. And also to Illinois Director of Labor Jane Flanagan: we were here together last year, building to this moment, and we’ll continue to build together. I very much appreciate you being here and all that you’re doing. Of course, with the state leaders, I have to also acknowledge my friend, Governor Pritzker, who is really stalwart in this space and understands what it means to build right.

Where’s Jazz? Jazz Allen. Jazz, your leadership, your story also, your energy, all that you bring to this, it is my honor to be back here again to support and celebrate the work that you’re doing always. And to Tina, come on forward. Tina, thank you also for your leadership. You, me, and Jazz have been in the same space a number of times, which tells me that I’m doing my job right. So thank you very, very much. And to Chicago Women in Trades, to Jane.

Jane, thank you also. Truly, Chicago Women in Trades is making big things happen.

And to understand just how big, I want to take us back for a moment to where we were. Remember January 2021. COVID was raging, and there was no national plan to get it under control. Unemployment was very high. And people, when they went to the store, didn’t know if they’d be able to find toilet paper.

Since then, we've come a long way. More jobs have been created since President Biden came into office than under any other president in this same period of time.

At the same time, the unemployment rate in this country is lower for the longest stretch than it’s been since the 1960s.

You all know this too. None of that happens by accident. Leadership matters. And President Biden’s vision of an economy that is built from the middle out and the bottom up—where we leave no one behind—is a key to that progress.

Remember something else from those years. I know you all know well: the promise of an infrastructure week that never materialized and became a punch line. We’ve also turned that around. Under President Biden’s agenda, we started investing in America again.

In fact, we’re making historic investments in our infrastructure, in the kind of projects that Director Phillips talked about, in safer roads and bridges, in modernizing airports, in making sure that every family who turns on the faucet home gets clean drinking water, and every community has access to high speed, reliable internet. These should not be luxuries. These should be basic things, and we have to be intentional about building them if we want them.

In fact, in Illinois alone, we have invested $16.6 billion—with a “b”—including more than $11 billion dollars in transportation infrastructure.  

We’re not just going to build and repair roads and bridges in this state. All of these investments are creating good jobs, including good union jobs. Because all of the women in this space know that if you want a job done right, you also want a union worker to do it.  

We need to connect people to those jobs. And Chicago tradeswomen are not only building the physical infrastructure, the physical roads and bridges in your communities that connect people. Chicago Women in Trades, CWIT, is building the roads and bridges that connect women to those good jobs.

So our workforce system is infrastructure too. It’s the roads and bridges that connect people to the good jobs they want and need and employers to the people that they want and need. But just like our physical infrastructure, our workforce infrastructure has some cracks. It’s got some potholes. It has not been built to reach every community the way that it needs to.  

Not only that, but for far too long, we’ve heard that “people don’t have the right skills” becomes an excuse to leave entire communities out of opportunity. No. Not this time.

We need strong bridges, the bridges from poverty to prosperity, from racial exclusion and real equity. And that’s the kind of bridges that are being built here in this space by the people in this room.

In President Biden’s America, we want to build it in communities all across the country. We want a workforce opportunity infrastructure worthy of all of America and inclusive of all of these communities.

At an event last year, I announced a $1.35 million investment in CWIT, in leaders like Jane, like Jazz, like Tina, like Tamara and Lauren. The leaders who are the women and are helping other women work on these projects.

And today, we’re here as IDOT and CWIT join forces to further reinforce this opportunity infrastructure. Today’s announcement is going to help us build opportunity infrastructure right here in Chicago and across Illinois. And to get it done, we need everyone at the table, which is why I am so delighted to look out and see so many of you here. We need employers and industry associations. We need unions. We need workers. We need community-based organizations. And we need government. And yes, we need women.

So the Biden-Harris Administration is in this with you. We just announced earlier this month another $47 million to build the opportunity infrastructure across this country the right way. And President Biden is investing in America. And tradeswomen and men are building America.

And I said leadership matters. So to all the leaders, to the credits of the state’s great leaders who are in this room and the leaders of CWIT, you’ve come together to commit to creating good jobs for women and for all of Illinois workers.  

We all know that good jobs change lives. It’s about more than a paycheck. It’s about dignity. It’s about respect. It's about how you build wealth in the community and how you provide for your family, and we have to make sure that happens in every single community.

So let me close with this. Just last month, women’s labor force participation rate in this country was the highest on record ever, going back to when this data was first collected in 1948. Yeah.

So women have powered this nation’s economic recovery. And women can do anything if given the chance. So we’re here in Chicago because here with the people in this room, women and women of color are getting that chance.

I’m very proud to build this opportunity infrastructure in the state with all of you. Let’s keep building together. And with that, let’s talk more.

Delivered By
Acting Secretary of Labor Julie Su