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Labor Secretary Solis to ASSE meeting: "We are serious" (7/13)

Here were the highlights of Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis’s speech at the opening session of the annual meeting of the American Society of Safety Engineers, held one week ago today in San Antonio:

  • One of the great parts of my job is speaking with people like you. People who are making meaningful contributions to improving and protecting the lives of working families in our country. The work you do is not easy, and in these difficult economic times, it's even harder for you to sell the message that workplace safety and health needs to be a business priority. It's hard work, but it's a vitally important mission for the working people of this country, and I salute you and thank you for your work.

  • As the product of immigrant parents and a working-class home, I understand the situation facing American workers. My dad worked in a battery recycling plant and was a member of the Teamsters, and my mother worked at a toy assembly plant and was a member of the Steelworkers Union. They fought side-by-side with their coworkers to make sure that their workplace was safe, and when their shift was over, they came home to their family safely.

  • My parents instilled in me many values - but most importantly they taught me to fight for what is right. These are the values I bring with me to the Department of Labor.

  • The government has a fundamental responsibility to protect workers from unsafe work places and to protect workers from unjust labor practices. We are focused on workers — not voluntary programs and alliances. We are serious about workplace protection.
  • We are serious about workplace health. And we are serious about workplace safety.

  • As I have said since my first day on the job — make no mistake, the Department of Labor is back in the enforcement business.

  • You can see this commitment echoed in my Fiscal Year 2010 Budget request. This budget will return our worker protection efforts to a level not seen since 2001!

  • For Fiscal year 2010, the Labor Department is requesting $1.7 billion for worker protection programs, an increase of 10 percent above the 2009 levels. In a single year, we will be adding nearly 670 additional investigators, inspectors, and other program staff. These additional resources will allow the Wage and Hour Division to improve compliance in low-wage industries that employ vulnerable workers. They will increase its focus on reducing repeat violations, and use complaint investigations strategically so we can increase protections for the greatest number of workers.

  • Our budget request builds on OSHA's renewed commitments to its mission. The budget proposes an increase of $50.6 million for the agency, allowing us to hire more than 200 new employees including: 130 more inspectors, 25 more discrimination investigators to pursue whistleblower complaints, 20 more staff members who will help develop workplace standards for safety and health, and includes an emphasis on hiring bilingual staff that is able to address the workplace's changing demographics.

  • OSHA's renewal of vigorously enforcing its standards and regulations means employers will no longer be able to say that it costs too much or takes too much time to address worker safety and health. There will be no excuses for negligence in protecting workers' from injury, illness and death.

  • We are serious about safety. And so long as I am Secretary of Labor, the Department will go after anyone who negligently puts workers lives at risk.

  • I know that some try to frame issues of worker safety as pitting workers against business. But we all know that the vast majority of American business owners care deeply about the health and safety of their workers. However, every business, regardless of its size, must provide its employees with safe working conditions. And considering the range of potential hazards — from asbestos to slippery stairs to excessive noise — that can be difficult, but it is necessary.

  • Every business, every organization, every worksite needs to develop and test a comprehensive emergency plan to protect their employees during a pandemic.

  • I hope that through words and actions you know where I stand on workplace safety. Our regulatory principals are clear: Where workers are in danger, where mandatory regulations make sense, we will act.

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