Secretary Solis Addresses the Union League Club of Chicago for Labor Day

Uploaded by USDepartmentofLabor on 23.09.2009

Sec. Hilda Solis Good afternoon.
Thank you and <i>Buenos tardes</i>.
I am just very proud to be here,
and I am proud to see that
I am welcomed here.
This is a very special day,
not just for this Secretary of Labor
but also for the many people
that believe and trust in this
change in our government.
I wanted to be sure to come here
because Chicago, Illinois, is
a very, very special place.
This is where business and management
and unions have kind of
cut their teeth, long before
I came around in these areas.
So it means a great deal to me.
I want to also thank the folks
that have opened up their home here
in this beautiful, beautiful facility.
I am just so taken by the warmth,
the friendship, by all the staff
that are here, by the board members
from the Union League Club of Chicago.
I know that this is the first time
you and our friends in labor
are hosting this very historic event.
My hat goes off to you.
I salute you, and I hope
that this will encourage you
to do more, and there will be
more opportunities for the
Secretary to come out here,
and hopefully other members
of the Cabinet, and our President,
who I know makes his home here.
So I want to say thank you
and how very proud I am.
I am very pleased that I have
two special friends, former House
colleagues --
I really have to tell you,
it's not easy changing roles
from a House member to now a
Cabinet member. It's hard to
break away from eight years
of people that you call your family.
That you sit with in Committee,
laboriously into late nights, early
mornings, 5 a.m., trying to
crank out health bills, reform,
everything. I can't think of
any of the best people that I'd like
to see here today other than
the two that have graced me
by coming here, and that's
my friends from the House,
Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky and,
also Congressman Danny Davis,
who I both served with on their
Stand up, get an applause.
These folks are tireless, tireless.
They are tireless labor leaders and
leaders in their own right.
I know that we are just going
to continue to rely on their
leadership. I know I will.
I know Jan knows that I'll call her.
Likewise, I will be calling
Danny and asking for whatever
help and assistance we can both impart
upon our roles that we play - so very
important right now in this time.
I want to also recognize the
Department of Labor Chicago office.
If I could just have them stand up?
I'm really proud of this group.
If they could just wave
and be recognized?
I just want to say that we want
to make history today. Part of
it is by the ULC and the Chicago Fed
coming together, but its also about
things that we are seeing happening
right now in our time, a very historic
time. We had a new president elected
last year, he began in January,
and began by making some dramatic
changes. To my surprise, I had no idea
that I would be given the privilege to
serve for Barack Obama as his Labor
Secretary. The first Latina
in the history of our country.
That says a lot about him, but
it says a lot about our country,
that no matter where you come from,
no matter what your background,
education, the American dream
lives on. And it lives on because
that is what made and makes
our country so great. So I want to
personally thank our president
for the opportunity and
for the opportunity to be a part
of our history. And I know
that Frances Perkins, who spoke
here back in 1933, probably is
looking down on us thinking,
"Gee, times aren't so different"
from when she served. They were
unprecedented times: high unemployment,
people out of work, soup lines, people
looking for help, people looking for a
helping hand, some guidance, and some
leadership. And all I can say is
that I am so pleased to be here on
this day to give my speech in the
city of Chicago, the city that works.
I would like to quote, if I can,
one of your most famous citizens,
Carl Sandburg, who wrote back in 1916:
"Come and show me another
city with lifted head singing ...
so proud to be alive ...
and course ...
strong and cunning."
That really describes what Chicago is.
Some people call it "The Windy
City," but I call Chicago "my boss'
hometown." [laughter]
It’s also home to more
than 140 Fortune 500 companies,
and the epicenter of business that is
the envy of many and
replicated by few.
You have a rich labor history: the
Pullman Strike, the Haymarket, and the
Republic Steel dispute. These events
for some of us evoke turmoil,
strife, but also
progress, change, and, yes, hope.
And the city’s changing demographics
here in Chicago reflect what's
happening across our country.
I'm speaking of change, Chicago, in fact,
changed my life. That change
happened right across the street
at the Federal building. And it didn't
dawn on me until late yesterday night
when I was out walking in front of
this facility and recalled that
on a December evening a week before
Christmas, I got a call in
California, from then president-elect
Barack Obama. He asked me to come and
be interviewed for a job. A job! And
I thought, my God, I haven't been
interviewed for a job since 1984!
I thought, well, here I go.
I come to the city in December. It's
cold, and, of course, being from LA,
I come inappropriately dressed.
I almost fell and slipped because
it was icy and had snowed.
And yet when I met with Barack and
his staff, I thought I did my best.
And I left with the feeling that he
told me, "Hilda, I am going to make a
decision tonight." He didn't say yes,
it's yours, he didn't say a word.
And I said, "Okay, it's in God's hands."
So I began to walk out of the building,
and wouldn't you know it, the girl
from California doesn't even know
how to hail the right cab...because
there were no cabs out where I was
looking. It was very, very cold, and
it was already late in the evening.
But I remember that moment as one that
was both inspirational to meet
someone so special, but also someone who
thought enough to ask me to serve
with his administration. So I am very,
very humbled. and I know that I am at
the right place today and with
the right people. I am very, very proud
that this is where I am going to be
giving my first Labor Day speech
with you.
So let me begin.
For over a century, we’ve set aside a
day to honor the contributions of
working men and women. This is
a uniquely American holiday.
It is devoted to no particular
gender, event, individual,
battle, group, or saint.
It is a holiday that everybody
can share in.
There were times in our history when
we have had great prosperity during
Labor Day, but today, I make my
remarks at a time when workers feel
anxiety and fear because they may
lose their jobs. This, no doubt, is a
turning point in our history.
We’ve been forced to take bold
action to address the worst economic
crisis since the Great Depression
and to put the brakes on the economic
downturn. Our economy is once
again showing signs of life, but we
aren’t there yet quite frankly.
Our unemployment rate is
an unacceptable 9.4%.
And let me be specific, for those
underrepresented groups like
African Americans, their
unemployment rate is 12%.
For Latinos, it's well over 12%.
For youth, particularly our
young people, it’s well above 24%.
Close to 15 million Americans
do not have any form of employment.
They are looking for work.
For some these may sound like
raw numbers and percentages,
but for me, for Hilda Solis, the
Labor Secretary, it's about real people.
It's about real families. it's about
real suffering that's going on in our
Earlier this year, I had an
opportunity to meet with autoworkers
in Michigan. The day after they
learned that their plant would be
closing, I went to visit them.
I saw with great surprise in their
faces, hope. Hope, that somebody
came to see them. That somehow our
administration was going to do
something and help to change factors in
their lives. They didn’t want
a hand out, they just wanted a job.
That’s the same spirit
I’ve seen all across this country in
my travels now as Labor Secretary.
In the past seven months in office,
I’ve traveled from Los Angeles,
Las Vegas, New York and Miami,
35 cities and towns, rural and urban.
I’ve met with employers, labor, faith
leaders, community organizers,
elected officials, students, educators,
activists, and seniors.
I’ve seen and heard and felt
their hope and their optimism.
I’ve been to a factory that used to
make car windshields. Now, guess what?
They're making solar panels.
I’ve been to a factory where
workers literally turn
remnants of old homes into beautiful,
modern furniture. They're recycling
what's there.
I’ve met workers who have
re-invented themselves for
21st Century jobs. From a woman in
Miami who became a union
electrician late in her life to a man
in Kansas who went from the
assembly line to the life line and
changed his entire career to become
a healthcare worker. He's
a certified nurse.
I’ve seen workplace programs
in San Antonio, Texas, where
safety is the bottom line for these
I've met with tribal leaders in Pueblo,
in New Mexico, where we
focused with them on their plans
for the future, and they still
continue to honor their sacred traditions.
I’ve seen the difference registered
apprenticeship programs can make in
construction careers, and how adult
literacy programs can open up
new hope and opportunities
for older workers, grandparents.
I had the pleasure of sitting at
the table with six grandparents
who were learning how to write
phonetically and to speak. I was
overwhelmed, and I said to myself
this is what we have to do to
help put America back together, to
make sure that nobody is left behind,
that we create good programs for
job training and make our nation
Those grandparents, I bet you, went
home and told their grandchildren
who they met. They told them that
we have programs for their youth,
whether it's Head Start, or whether
it's summer youth employment, or
whether it's training in apprenticeship
programs. Those were avenues that are
going to be open to their families.
I have talked to and listened not only to
who works in the offices
during the day, but I have also
made it a point to talk to people
who clean the offices at
I’ve traveled two and
a half miles below the earth’s
surface. First time perhaps that a
Labor Secretary, a female Labor
Secretary, went down into a coal mine.
From the Great Depression to 9/11,
Americans have faced tough times,
but we beat them.
This time will be no different.
The fact that the daughter of immigrants
is the nation’s 25th Secretary of Labor
is a testament that anything is
possible in this great country.
My mother was a minimum wage worker
at a toy assembly plant
and was a member of
the United Rubber Workers Union,
now known as the Steelworkers.
My father was a proud teamster
member at a battery recycling plant,
but more than that, he brought
the union there. He was a shop steward.
Many people have influenced my life,
mentored me, and inspired me.
Some that I know have touched your lives
as well. I think about people like
Martin Luther King, Jr., who
sparked my passion at a very early age
regarding civil and human rights;
I think about my friend who still
lives and walks and still organizes,
Dolores Huerta of the United Farmworkers,
who had her ribs broken in a struggle
but never had her spirit broken; and
Cesar Chavez who inspired
me and the world by simply believing
in himself and others. By saying
in Spanish, "Si, se puede!" and now
our president says, "Yes, We Can!"
I am a product of
the women’s movement,
the labor movement,
the environmental
the social justice and
civil rights movement.
And guess what?
I am even married to a small
business owner.
I’m proud of all that. That's what
helps define who Hilda Solis is, and
who this new Labor Secretary is.
All of those challenges, all of those
What I believe most in now is that
good jobs should be made available
for everyone.
And here’s what I mean by
"good jobs":
One, jobs that can support a family
by increasing incomes and
narrowing the wage gap;
Jobs that are safe and secure,
and give people a voice at the
workplace and the table;
Jobs that are sustainable and
innovative like green-collar
jobs in renewable energy that export
products and not paychecks.
Jobs that rebuild and
restore a strong middle class.
In this economy that’s a tall
order to follow, but that’s what
our president believes in, and
that’s what Hilda Solis is about.
As we all know, almost 200 days have
The historic Recovery Act has begun
to feel its strength.
I will tell you that the original
goal that this president embarked on
was to provide, rescue and rebuild.
Rescue and rebuild this economy.
In his first 100 days in office, my
department alone released $45 billion of
$46 billion for the Recovery Act efforts.
We moved almost immediately to
protect workers who lost their jobs
and provided new worker training
opportunities for dislocated workers
and to help those workers upgrade
their skills. At the same
time, we were strengthening our social
safety net, by extending COBRA benefits
and coverage and reducing the premiums
so people could enter in to that plan;
and upping the unemployment checks by
$25 per week.
We’ve also extended unemployment
insurance eligibility and have seven
billion dollars available for states
who modernize their UI system.
So far, twenty-nine states
and the District of Columbia
have done just that.
Now more workers including women,
part-timers and people upgrading
their skills are eligible for these new
benefits. Your state is one of them.
Last June the state received over
$100 million for UI modernization
efforts, and today the state
received an additional $200
million in national emergency funds.
This help recently laid off workers
through job training and
continued health assistance.
While we are helping workers
through these very, very tough times,
we are also trying to make that
big investment and change, that
career change.
We’ve made $220 million
available to help dislocated
workers move into high-growth
employment sectors
like allied health and
information technology.
We’re providing over $500
million for green job training,
which will not only jumpstart
our economy but lay the
foundation for long-term
competitiveness and reduce
our dependence on foreign oil.
We’ve awarded well over $114 million
to community groups across
the country to provide additional
education and training to
young people.
And through our summer
youth employment program,
nearly 225,000 young people
will have had work experience and
earned a pay check. Here in your
city of Chicago well over 4,000 of those
youngsters got jobs.
I want to be very clear on this point:
everyone, everyone must benefit from
what we are doing.
I am personally making sure that
funds go to the right places.
That communities of color, youth,
veterans, workers with disabilities,
and women participate in all of these
new programs. And here’s why:
because, unfortunately, women
continue to only earn 80 cents for
every dollar a man earns.
We need to get more women
into the highest paying
Our soldiers pledge to leave
no one behind on the battlefield.
I pledge to leave no veteran behind
when he or she comes home
and wants to find a job.
Shockingly, 77% of
individuals with disabilities
do not participate in our
workforce. I’m making sure
that we utilize this untapped,
highly motivated and highly
educated workforce.
I’m confident that these efforts will
make a difference because we have
seen that the Recovery Act has
kept America's workers in their jobs.
I just want to share with you
very briefly, the Mayor of New
York, for example, an Independent, and the
Governor of Florida, a Republican,
have both said publicly that without
the Recovery Act thousands of
teachers in their city and their
state would have been laid off.
That’s true not only for teachers
but for police officers,
firefighters and EMTs.
Countless businesses – both small
and large – have said they have avoided
layoffs thanks to the Recovery Act.
To date more than 30,000 Recovery
Act projects have been approved.
These efforts will help to create
jobs and a ripple effect
as the demand for supplies
and services increases. Without a
doubt, the Recovery Act is helping to
pull our economy back from the
brink. But creating jobs isn't
the only part of my agenda.
My philosophy is not just a job,
I want to see a good job that pays
well and is a safe job.
Two weeks ago we reported through
the Department of Labor that
there were more than 5,000 fatal
work injuries in 2008,
so that’s why I’m adding 130
OSHA inspectors to my payroll.
Workplace safety is not only our
responsibility, but it is our moral
obligation especially since
low-wage, low-skilled and immigrant
workers are particularly vulnerable
to workplace injury and death.
This is why I am announcing today
that I will be convening the
first-of-its-kind national dialogue
and action summit on
construction safety and the Latino
community in 2010.
Everyone will have a role
in the summit from
employers, contractors, labor groups,
safety advocates, government
officials, entertainment communities,
the advertising industry,
and other non-traditional partners.
We will forge new ways to educate
workers and employers about job
hazards and their rights and to
educate employers about their
responsibilities. No matter who you
are, no one should have to die for a
job, and I will not be satisfied until
there are no workplace deaths.
Our states also have a role to play
in worker safety, and your state
knows this. That is why the
state is one of five the Labor
Department approved to operate its
own OSHA program.
For the first time, one
million public employees in this state
will have the same workplace and
safety protections that private
employees have. The action is long
overdue, and I’m proud to have been
the Labor Secretary to help
authorize that.
As much as I believe that
workers have a right to safety, I also
believe they have the right to
have fairness and balance in
the workplace.
That’s why I will work with the
White House to make the strongest
case for the Employee Free Choice
Act; because I believe ...
because I believe what some of you
in this room believe and know is true,
that union jobs are good jobs;
that union jobs pay higher salaries
and wages; and union jobs provide
flexibility and benefits like
paid leave, childcare,
education assistance and
pension protection.
The President has said, "We need to
level the playing field. This is about
fairness and balance." And it's
about respect. His Labor
Secretary tends to agree with him,
and in order to rebuild our
middle class, we need to
level the playing field for all
working people.
My friends, we are facing
monumental challenges, but the
question is not when the challenges
will end, but rather what happens
once they do? I’ve been thinking a
lot about "endings" lately, especially
since the passing of one my dear friends
and colleagues, Senator Ted Kennedy.
It breaks my heart that
he won’t be with us for one
more Labor Day. He often said, "I
have seen throughout my life how
we as a people can rise to a
challenge, embrace change, and
renew our destiny."
Ladies and gentlemen, I’m more
convinced than ever that we can
accomplish this, and I want to tell
you why.
I arrived in Chicago yesterday as we
say in Washington, and some of my
colleagues know this, "under the radar."
I did not bring a slew of televisions
with me. I did not bring an army of staff.
I went to visit a very
important job center, the
Paul Simon Job Corps Center, one of
125 centers that the Department of Labor
I want to recognize two of our students and
the director for the Paul Simon
Job Corps Center who are here. Please
stand and be recognized.
One of the best parts of my job is that
I get to interact with young people.
These young people were no different
from every day Americans who want
just a fighting chance to be
successful, to have a job and to have
an education. I was so pleased to
have been with them yesterday,
to see they are living out
these dreams that so many
of us have forgotten about, or feel
it is such a far reach for us and
for our children. We can't let that
dream go for these young people.
These young people are typically called
at-risk youth. Well, I am telling you
I don't see any risk. I see hope.
I see a future. I see some young
people who really want to provide
opportunities for us, to help improve
our economy and to be something and
to contribute something back
to our community.
I met a young man there yesterday
who told me he wants to build
windmills. He's learning the skill of
welding, but he also has to learn math and
science so he knows where he is going.
He actually showed me a diagram of
what he is going to be putting together.
I asked him when he is completed with
that project, I want to see it and I
want to come visit.
Another young person I met was showing
me the skill sets they learn to
become pharmacy tech students.
These are young African-American,
Latino students, students that just
needed a second chance. Someone,
gave up on them somewhere,
and they somehow became a part
of our Job Corps program.
To see their lives change like that,
to hear their own testimony and
stories about why they are now making
this change in their life, and to
want to be able to provide some who
had children who wanted to make a
change, I thought was very, very
What caught me on my way out was even
more surprising.
As I was ready to leave to come here
into town, I ran into a young man.
He looked like a teenager, maybe fifteen
years old, a young gentleman who told
me he was just coming back from
Afghanistan, one of our young vets.
How many of those young vets are
in need of help coming back home,
to readjust, to get that additional
education that maybe they didn't get
while they were in the miliary
and needed a job skill? He told me
he was going to be entering into the
welding program and wanted to become a
member, wanted to be able to earn
and to do more. I asked him,
you know, you are going to be my
secret weapon. You are going to help me
recruit more young vets to these
programs because so many can benefit
from what I saw being offered
through Job Corps
and through many other programs that the
Department of Labor offers. But the
best thing was I asked him how did you
hear about the program? He said, "I saw
a commercial on television."
I thought, "Wow!" So people do really
But the long and short of it, I guess
for me, is to tell you that I have a lot
of hope in these young people.
And it is not just the Job Corps
program, but it is also the Youth Build
program and some of the others.
It is giving adults, young adults because
not all these youngsters are sixteen and
seventeen, many are twenty-three and
twenty-four years old, some that have
even left their state to come into a
program because they offer a specialized
training apprenticeship program.
It is marvelous to see that kind of
commitment. I wonder
how many members of
Congress have taken the time or elected
officials have actually gone out to visit
these locations? Also our folks in
the union, in the labor movement
as well as our business community?
Everyone is looking for help,
collaboration and networking.
I would encourage you to do that.
You have some very talented young people
here, who, if just given an opportunity,
can help make that change for the city of
As a result of all that, you can tell
by my passion, that I am even more eager
to do this job.
I really like this job.
I think it is one of the best jobs that
I could have ever been offered.
I had no idea that I would be talking
to so many people across this country.
I thought I had it down when I was a
member of the House just flying back and
forth to LA every weekend, but now I am
going to different states every weekend.
I am visiting with people in rural areas,
in farm towns,
visiting people that I
would never have imagined
would spend time with me.
Even in a coal mine.
And yet, they all tell me one thing,
they are happy with our administration.
They know that we have a lot of work to
do to repair this economy, but they are
ready to stand firm, to stand tall, to
stand with us to see that that happens.
So I continue to be inspired.
I've traveled a great journey to get here,
but I want to make one more appeal
to you, to the Union League Club
and the Chicago Federation.
You helped to make history today by
coming together and having me as your
guest. I want to ask you, on
Labor Day, think about Labor Day,
it is next week, instead of a day off,
how about a day on?
Instead of staying home and just relaxing
or maybe going to the mall or picnics
or barbecues -- that's fine, you can
choose to do that -- what about using
that time also to help mentor someone,
to talk to a youth,
to visit a returning vet,
to spend some community volunteer time
with people who need it, or
maybe your neighbor that
you haven't seen come out of his house
or her house lately because
she's too embarassed
because she lost her job?
Cooking a meal for them,
wouldn't that be nice?
Couldn't we do that?
Couldn't we make that change?
I would ask you and invite you to join me
on that day, that Labor Day, to help
celebrate a new beginning.
Now, in closing, to each and every
one of you, as your Labor Secretary,
I want to wish you a very safe,
prosperous, and healthy Labor Day.
I want to thank you very much
for inviting me here.
I want to thank our president, and I want
to thank our great country.
God bless America.