Hilda Solis: “Making the American Dream a Reality for Middle Class Families”

Our U.S. Secretary of Labor gets it

Last week, Secretary Solis testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) at a hearing on “Building the Ladder of Opportunity: What’s Working to Make the American Dream a Reality for Middle Class Families.”

View the webcast of the hearing at http://help.senate.gov/.

Among the topics she discussed in her opening remarks, Secretary Solis stressed the importance of providing training and education to prepare workers for the high growth industries, with particular attention to jobs in the green energy, advanced manufacturing, and healthcare sectors. She also emphasized the need to re-authorize the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) as well as protect collective bargaining rights of workers as a way to rebuild the middle class.

The excerpt below focuses on the Secretary’s comments around collective bargaining rights:

“…[F]inally, I think any discussion about finding solutions to the challenges facing the middle class would be deficient if it did not include a discussion of the importance of collective bargaining rights. I know that the recent actions of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) have been discussed in earlier hearings in this series. I do not mean to take our conversation in that direction. As you know, the NLRB is an independent agency and I cannot comment on either the Boeing complaint or the recently proposed union election rules.

I can comment, however, on the centrality of the relationship between the health of the labor movement and the health of the middle class in our nation. I have lived that connection. My father was a Teamsters shop steward in a battery recycling plant. When I was a child, I would sit at our kitchen table and help translate the workers’ grievances from Spanish to English. They wanted safer working conditions and livable wages and benefits. The union helped them get what they earned and deserved – a shot at a middle class life for themselves and their families.

The statistics bear this out. From the 1940’s to the 1960’s, when union density was at its height, the middle class in our country thrived. Wages and productivity rose together during that time and we experienced robust growth throughout the economy. Union members with good, secure jobs could afford to buy good American products so American companies could succeed. That’s why this Administration supports the right of workers to collectively bargain if they so choose.”