DOL Portrait Unveiling

April 17, 2018

Good afternoon everyone! ¡Buenas tardes y bienvenidos!

It is good to be back here in the Department of Labor, which is charged with protecting working people and ensuring that every family has a genuine opportunity to live the American Dream.

I know that I am only here today because my parents, who were both immigrants to this country, lived their own American Dream as active members in their unions and therefore were able to provide for their family.

My father was a Teamsters shop steward and organizer.

And my mother worked on an assembly line as a member of the United Rubber Workers.

As the third oldest of seven children, I saw the tremendous effort and passion my parents put into building a life for themselves and my siblings – a life in a new country.

All my parents asked for was a fair shot. They found fairness by organizing with their fellow workers.

At a young age, I vowed to do what I can to help them and people like them, to help immigrants, to help working class people, young people, to help everyone lift themselves up and reach the American Dream.

I was, and continue to be, deeply honored that President Obama selected me as his Secretary of Labor.

Over the course of his 2008 campaign, candidate Obama spoke often of his commitment to improving the lives of working people.

Like me, he had a desire to serve working people that brought him into politics.

I remember when President-elect Obama told me that if I wanted to work for him, I was going to be the voice for working families and organized labor.

I have always worked towards social justice, combating discrimination and racism, and standing up and fighting for the underdog.

This has been my guiding force for my entirety in public office, including when I was here at the Department of Labor.

I am proud to say we were able to do just that.

My overarching priority as Secretary of Labor was simple, and it infused every action that I took: “Good Jobs for Everyone.

However, it was never easy.

I entered this Department in the most difficult economy since the Great Depression.

By the time of my swearing-in, unemployment had reached 6.7%, the numbers of long-term unemployed had risen to one in four of all unemployed workers, household debt was at a historic high, and household income had been stagnant or falling for several years.

These numbers were worse for minority populations and traditionally underserved communities such as the Rust Belt and Native American reservations – the communities least likely to be able to recover without assistance from the federal government.

The first Friday of every month was always the toughest day: the day the Department reports the unemployment numbers.

In the throes of the Great Recession, I know I was the face of unemployment in our country.

Every day in office – but especially every first Friday of the month – I recommitted myself to ensuring Good Jobs for Everyone.

Following the Great Recession and loss of more than 4 million jobs by 2009, while I was Secretary of Labor we created 2.4 million private sector jobs to reboot the economy.

We strengthened the federal unemployment insurance program, helping dislocated workers stay afloat and receive job training and placement assistance.

While I was Secretary of Labor, more than 1.7 million people completed federally-funded job training programs.

We invested in community colleges to provide local and employer-specific job training to millions of Americans.

We worked closely with the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs to ensure that every returning servicemember has access to world-class career counseling and job training programs.

In my first year, we served nearly 200,000 servicemembers through DOL’s transition assistance program and more than 1.5 million Veterans through the One-Stop Career Center system. We also served 15,500 homeless Veterans my first year.

We placed a special focus on underserved Veteran populations: in 2010, over 26 grants were awarded in 14 states and the District of Columbia for job training, counseling, and placement services to expedite the reintegration of homeless female Veterans and Veterans with families into the labor force.

Combating homelessness was a persistent effort throughout my term.

While Secretary of Labor, I was pleased to serve as Vice Chair of the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness – then-HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan was the Chair.

I remember the Council meeting, held in the middle of a snowstorm, to set the foundation of our Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness.

We acted on the moral imperative that “no one should experience homelessness – no one should be without a safe, stable place to call home.”

We released “Opening Doors,” the nation’s first comprehensive strategic plan to prevent and end homelessness among all populations.

Enforcement of workplace protection laws and job safety regulations were also critical to our success.

We restored worker protection agencies’ staffing by hiring 1,015 enforcement personnel in OSHA, WHD, OFCCP, MSHA, and EBSA, including 700 new wage hour employees.

Recognizing the language diversity of the working people we served, we hired more than 600 multilingual investigators – who spoke more than 46 languages – as Community Outreach and Resource Planning (CORP) Specialists

These specialists worked in WHD District Offices to provide compliance assistance and to better connect with stakeholders.

Our staff worked hard, and we led nationwide enforcement initiatives in industries with persistent violations of federal wage and hour laws, such as the agriculture, restaurant, construction, hotel/motel, garment, and health care industries.

Under my management, we used all available enforcement tools to recover back wages for affected workers and deter future violations, including litigation, civil money penalties, liquidated damages, “hot goods” embargoes, and debarment.

Over my four years as Secretary of Labor, we collected over $478 million in back wages for approximately 580,000 workers in nearly 70,000 cases.

Enforcement and informal resolution programs resulted in the recovery of almost $5 billion for retirees and their families.

For the first time ever, the Department of Labor under my leadership devoted significant resources to combat the misclassification of workers to better protect employees and businesses who play by the rules.

We worked to update regulations and cut bureaucratic red tape to help workers and struggling communities thrive in the 21st Century workplace.

We strengthened safeguards for US and foreign guest workers with new rules in the H-2A and H-2B programs by raising wages, improving worker benefits, and supporting labor protections.

We issued new rules, following an executive order by President Obama, to require Federal contractors to post a notice at the workplace informing employees about their representation and bargaining rights.

We preserved union members’ access to meaningful financial information about their unions while eliminating unnecessary paperwork with new labor-management reporting rules.

Additionally, we ensured that for the very first time more than 40,000 TSA (Transportation Security Administration) workers – the men and women who keep our airports safe – had the choice to form a union and engage in collective bargaining.

In addition to combating the gender wage gap, as Secretary I promoted greater work-life balance, workplace flexibility, paid leave, and employment opportunities for all women.

I was immensely proud that within the first ten days of his administration, President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to remove barriers for women to file pay discrimination claims.

We prioritized training women to succeed in a clean energy economy – which means ensuring that there are opportunities for women in growing industries.

We also focused on building up the next generation of workers and ensuring they have the skills they need to succeed in today’s 21st Century economy.

We worked with local partners to create jobs training programs for youth.

This was one of the best things about being Labor Secretary: overseeing Job Corps, a network of more than 120 residential training and education facilities around the country.

These programs taught work skills and put young people to work – it was a work program that worked.

In Michigan, the Department of Labor worked with LIUNA and the Detroit Job Corps Center to develop state of the art green jobs training for students.

In California, in Long Beach, the Department funded a program to provide career technical training for 300 youth between the ages of 16-24 – they had the opportunity to earn a high school diploma or GED while receiving hands-on training such as culinary arts, construction, health care, and manufacturing.

The strength of the Job Corps programs always impressed me throughout my term as Secretary: we always got a lot out of these investments in our children’s future.

The Department also launched “United We Serve,” President Obama’s summer service initiative to create community change through long-term volunteer involvement and job creation.

I remember touring La Causa, a DOL YouthBuild program in Los Angeles that provided job training and education for at-risk youth between the ages of 16 and 24, giving them the opportunity to earn critical skills while building or fixing affordable housing for low-income or formerly homeless families.

We gave hope to young people who otherwise wouldn’t have had those opportunities. We gave them a second chance, a career path, a shot at the American Dream.

Helping youth who were on the wrong path was particularly impactful.

Mistakes made at a young age should not mean a lifetime of lost opportunities.

In 2012, the Department made available roughly $20 million in grant funds to provide job training and support services for juvenile justice-involved youth.

These programs targeted improving the labor prospects for former offenders in high-poverty high-crime areas by focusing on training for in-demand industries and occupations within their own communities.

The programs these grants funded gave young people who have gotten off-track the tools, support, and opportunities to rebuild trust and positively contribute to their communities, their families, and their own sense of wellbeing and humanity.

These programs created opportunities for young former offenders to rebuild trust and become known as valuable contributors to their neighborhoods.

We also worked to help struggling communities throughout the country.

I am proud that, during my tenure, the Department of Labor was an active leader in promoting and implementing groundbreaking legislation in the Recovery Act and the Affordable Care Act – legislation that had a direct effect on helping working families make ends meet, creating jobs, and in many cases, saving communities.

After all, there’s no doubt that Detroit and the auto industry was saved because of our actions during the Great Recession.

And I saw with my own eyes how bringing jobs and health care to the most underserved communities – Native American reservations – brought employment, health, and hope to many.

The Recovery Act was the most significant single investment our nation ever made to ensure our future economic success.

It enabled us to repair and improve our country’s infrastructure, fund innovative research and development initiatives, and create job opportunities for Americans including funding for training – especially in high-growth sectors and industries, such as green jobs.

I was deeply committed to expanding green jobs because I knew that even when the economy was strong, there still existed a disconnect between economic growth and middle-class incomes.

At the Department, we solicited grant applications specifically targeting workforce training to meet the need of our nation’s expanding green industries.

We encouraged states to participate by identifying regional and local environmental resources, businesses, and pre-apprenticeship programs promoting green jobs and projects to provide youth summer work experiences that prepared them to compete in a “green” economy.

This comprehensive effort to expand green jobs was infused through every corner of the Department of Labor:

The Office of Apprenticeship within the ETA supported grants to fund the development and adaptation of national guideline standards for green job apprenticeship.

The Veterans’ Employment and Training Service facilitated the entrance of veterans into green jobs as part of their transition into the civilian workforce

BLS developed approaches to measure green jobs.

Occupational research specialists within ETA defined green jobs and reviewed our existing green investments so we could understand how new green technology materials would affect occupational requirements.

And, during this push for more green jobs during my tenure, Job Corps facilities included green technologies, while green job programming and training was implemented across disciplines, including automotive maintenance, construction, and manufacturing.

Community organizations, labor-management partnerships, employers, community colleges, and postsecondary universities proved to be essential partners in these efforts.

Throughout, I was committed to ensuring that both diversity and inclusion were reflected in the federal funding of green jobs workforce training.

Green jobs was a tremendous opportunity for the nation to regain economic security during a difficult time in our country’s history.

In addition to the Great Recession, three major incidents stick in my mind where the Department of Labor played a major role in protecting workers and getting people back to work:

The Massey mine disaster in West Virginia,

The BP oil spill, and

Hurricane Sandy

The Massey mine disaster, which killed 29 people, was the worst accident in the US mining industry in four decades.

I remember meeting with the families of the victims, and promising justice. I promised them that the safety of workers will always come first.

The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), which found that the accident was “entirely preventable,” issued the largest fine in history: $10.8 million. This was the maximum allowed.

We implemented a “Rules to Live By” mining fatality reduction program to prevent safety violations frequently cited as a cause of fatal accidents, like the one in West Virginia.

We established an impact inspection program of intensified inspections at mines with significant health or safety issues.

We issued a final rule on rock dust to protect the health and safety of minors, and we launched a comprehensive black lung strategy linking compliance assistance, regulatory actions, and public education to eliminate this disease.

We won a landmark case that established the Labor Secretary’s authority to seek an injunction at a mine that has engaged in a “pattern of violations,” which resulted in the closure of the Massey Energy mine.

I never forgot the promise I made to those families to do what we could to protect miner safety. I hope we lived up to their standard.

15 days after the Massey Mine explosion, BP’s Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded, killing 11 workers and turning the Gulf into an oil slick.

After the explosion, I fought to make sure that the company was hiring local workers to do the cleanup.

But after I visited the communities impacted by the oil spill, and met with people on the ground, the workers told me that BP was not providing them with proper safety training in their spoken languages.

These workers were often minorities, working in 109-degree weather while wearing plastic coveralls, handling dangerous contaminants.

We saw this situation again in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, which resulted in $62 billion in damage and 1.5 million Americans experiencing a disruption in employment.

When I visited Staten Island’s Port Richmond after Superstorm Sandy, I spoke with many immigrant day laborers who were working on the cleanup: ripping out ruined insulation, removing moldy walls, and dodging downed electrical wires and other hazards.

I was deeply concerned about the health and safety of the Sandy cleanup workers, some of whom were undocumented, and many of whom were wary or outright fearful of reporting missed wages or unsafe conditions.

Wherever I went as Secretary of Labor, I reassured workers that they have an ally in the Federal Government: they shouldn’t be afraid to call us, everything was confidential, and that we were here to protect their rights.

Their struggle reminded me of my own father and mother, fighting for safety reforms at their own workplaces.

That’s why it’s important to have people in leadership positions who understand what working families are facing every day to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table.

Immigrant workers, especially undocumented immigrant workers, are especially vulnerable to abuse and being taken advantage of.

Protecting workers, ensuring safe working conditions and enforcement of labor and right to organize laws, is something to which I have dedicated my life in elected office: from my time in the California State Legislature, to Congress and the Department of Labor, and to my current job as Los Angeles County Supervisor.

Today, at this moment though, it is good to be back at the Department of Labor.

Thank you, and ¡Si Se Puede!