Remarks As Prepared for Delivery for Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis at White House Forum on Environmental Justice

Press Release

By:  Hilda Solis
Date: Dec. 15, 2010
Location: Washington, DC

Good morning!

I'd like to thank Administrator Jackson and Chair Sutley for inviting me to join them and our other colleagues here today for an important discussion about environmental justice.

I know they are committed to and passionate about addressing environmental justice as you are.

I hope you can all leave here today with good ideas on what we are trying to do and what we can do together to achieve justice in communities across this country.

I would also like to thank Ms. Vernice Miller-Travis for her introduction...

I know I have had he opportunity to work together on these issues with you and many others that are here today while I was a Member of Congress ... it's good to be here again with you.

Like Administrator Jackson, Chair Sutley, and Secretary Chu, my commitment to environmental justice issues runs deep.

As a Member of the California State Legislature I authored the first ever environmental justice law at the state level.

My former Congressional District has 3 Superfund sites and 17 gravel pits... some operating and some orphaned... but all affecting the community.

I have brought my commitment to the Department of Labor where I have charged my staff with the mission of "good and safe jobs for everyone"... a mission that requires both access to good training and enforcement of labor and employment laws.

All communities across this country should have access to the training needed for employment opportunities in jobs in the green economy and these jobs should be good, safe jobs.

So at the Department of Labor we have taken a number of steps to make sure that our grants are reaching communities that may not have traditionally been reached.

For example:

The Department awarded $150 million in Pathways Out of Poverty Grants, grants to help provide training in clean energy jobs to high school dropouts, individuals with a criminal record, and those living in areas of high poverty.

These programs integrated training services at times and locations easily accessible for trainees.

And training was coupled with supportive services, such as child care and transportation, to help people overcome obstacles to training and employment.

We've made green gold for our entire Department.

Our YouthBuild and Job Corps programs are teaching critical skills for employment in the clean energy economy to youth.

Our Veterans Employment and Training Service is connecting VETS transitioning into civilian careers into green jobs and our Women's Bureau will soon be publishing a Women's Guide to Green Jobs.

We've also changed the way grant applications are reviewed and selected.

Rather than review panels made of strictly government employees we've instituted a peer review process.

We want a diverse pool of expertise -- from the workforce system, from institutions of higher educations, from community and faith -- based organizations... we want you.

We must also make sure that these jobs are good jobs... enforcement is necessary to protect workers.

Workers in underserved communities -- like Latino workers for example - suffer and die on the job at a greater rate, while doing the hardest, most unhealthy, most dangerous jobs.

No one should have to die to earn a paycheck, and we will not tolerate employers who cheat their workers out of their pay, especially during tough economic times.

A job is about more than a paycheck.

It's about dignity and respect.

To this end, we have restored worker protection agencies and hired hundreds of new investigators -- folks who speak multiple languages and who we are training to work with community allies to ensure worker protections.

We have filed a record number of egregious safety cases and issued the highest fines in OSHA's history -- to companies like BP -- sending a strong message that we will not tolerate neglect of worker safety and health.

Since I took office, the Department has collected more than $300 million in back wages for more than 385,000 workers.

I have hired an additional 300 new wage and hour investigators to ensure that we can promptly respond to complaints and can undertake more targeted enforcement.

I have launched a multilingual national public awareness campaign called "We Can Help" to connect America's most vulnerable workers with the broad array of services and educate them about their rights on the job.

And for those of you in the Gulf, my Department was there.

Ensuring that BP and its contractors protected the safety and health of oil spill clean-up workers.

We published materials in English, Spanish and Vietnamese, ensured training required for workers was available in the workers' primary language, and worked with advocates to ensure that workers knew their rights.

All of this is good for workers and good for employers.

Businesses that play by the rules should not have to compete with low road companies that do not.

An even and level playing field for business is what we want and it is what business wants.

And in the end, it is what workers want.

By providing the training that is turning blue-collar jobs into secure green-collar jobs, we are paving a pathway out of poverty; strengthening urban and rural communities; rebuilding a strong middle class; and protecting the health of our citizens and planet.

This investment in our workforce will not only jumpstart our economy today but will lay the foundation for America's long term competitiveness.

And together, we can ensure that the clean energy economy represents the great diversity of our nation!

Thank you.

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