NATIONAL ACTION SUMMIT
FOR LATINO WORKER HEALTH AND SAFETY
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
Assistant Secretary of Labor
For Occupational Safety and Health
Good afternoon and welcome, everyone, to this historic meeting. Buenas tardes. Bienvenido.
I am David Michaels, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health. It is my honor to welcome you to the National Action Summit for Latino Worker Health and Safety here in Houston, Texas.
I can't start this conference without acknowledging that this is a very difficult time for workplace safety, as all of you understand. Our prayers are with the miners' families and all the families of workers killed every day on the job.
But this is also a great time for hope and that's why we're here together this week. A year ago, Hilda Solis accepted President Obama's call to give up her position as a United States congresswoman to serve in his White House cabinet as our Nation's Secretary of Labor. Under her leadership, the Labor Department has refocused its energy on hearing, representing and defending the concerns of working men and women all across the United States. She quickly established her goal: To ensure "good jobs for everyone." And all of us here understand that no job is a good job unless it is a safe job.
Last year, when Secretary Solis asked me, on behalf of the President, to lead OSHA, I welcomed the opportunity to bring all my career experience as a government administrator and as a scientist to fight for safe jobs.
So: Welcome everyone!
More than 1,000 people have registered for this summit - including workers, employers, unions, safety advocates, consulates, community- and faith-based organizations, universities, representatives from State and Federal government, the medical community and many other groups. And if we hadn't been forced by space limits to cut off registration, we'd probably have hundreds more. This overwhelming interest alone demonstrates the significance of this conference.
We are all here in Houston to confront a very serious problem. Over the past decade, our concerns about the high rate of injuries, illnesses and fatalities suffered by Latino workers and their dangerous working conditions have grown and deepened.
Latino workers are killed on the job at higher rates than all other workers. This is a tragedy for everyone living and working in the United States of America. These deaths on the job are wasteful, tragic and absolutely preventable. There is no reason on earth, especially in America, why anyone should have to be killed or injured on the job just to earn a paycheck.
The Purpose of the Summit
In a few moments other speakers, including Secretary Solis, will address the breadth and depth of this national problem, but here, now, is the main message of this summit:
We must stop the mayhem in our workplaces. We must reverse the terrible trend that robs families and communities of our friends, our neighbors and our loved ones.
The purpose of this summit is to find ways to reduce injuries, illness and death on the job. Today and tomorrow, we will work together to develop new ways of bringing safety and health training and protections to Latino workers who face the most dangerous working conditions and the fewest protections.
We will look to form partnerships with diverse groups who can bring critical information about job hazards and worker rights to Latino workers.
We will work today, this week, and in the coming months and years to build trust. We want Latino workers to know that - if they have questions, if they have safety concerns, if they want to know about their rights, if they seek protection from retaliation when they complain about dangerous conditions on the job - they can rely on OSHA and the Department of Labor for help.
We have a very full program over the next few days, so let's get started. You are about to hear from speakers and a panel of workers who will frame the challenges we face and the direction in which we need to head, culminating in a speech by Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis.
This summit is designed to help us learn from each other. It will showcase successful partnerships between government, community groups, faith-based groups and Latino workers - partnerships that we hope will be duplicated throughout this country, partnerships that will bring urgently needed education and empowerment to workers. One example is the free call center we established last year in New York, where area Latino workers can find education, guidance and assistance about their rights in the workplace.
Other workshops demonstrate effective worksite programs and labor-management programs that can help employers train their Latino workers on job hazards and their rights. We have a workshop on free resources available to small business owners - resources provided by OSHA, other agencies and private organizations. We believe that no business should fail to protect its workers because it can't find good information or assistance. This is why the President's FY 2011 budget calls for a $1 million increase in OSHA's small business consultation program.
Another workshop discusses the role of medical clinics in protecting workers, as well as the need for better data on fatalities and injuries. We have two workshops that focus on the particularly high risks that young Latino workers face on the job. And we have workshops for workers and community-based organizations where we will focus on workers' rights under OSHA and DOL's Wage and Hour Division.
In my brief closing remarks tomorrow, I will tell you then, as I am telling you now, that this summit is only the beginning of a process. We are planning similar local conferences around the nation.
For example: This Saturday in Houston, OSHA and the Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor are sponsoring a conference for Latino workers and their families at the Convention Center. We are expecting between 500 and 1,000 workers to attend the conference, called "We Can Help."
We are also planning a meeting in Nebraska that will focus on the needs of Latino and other immigrant workers in the meatpacking industry.
We will work to change the landscape of labor in the United States by fighting for better, safer jobs. We want to give all workers a voice in the workplace, because a paycheck is not payment for silence. It is not a license to endure any pain at any cost.
I want to express my sincere thanks to OSHA's co-sponsors for this summit: the National Institute For Occupational Safety and Health, and the National Institute of Environmental Health and Sciences.
Thanks as well to the many people who have worked for weeks and months to organize this conference, plan workshops and bring in our distinguished panelists and presenters. Let's give them all a hand for making this event possible.
Let's also remember to thank the staff at this beautiful hotel - all the workers who prepare and serve our food, clean our hotel rooms, hold doors for us, carry our bags and answer our many questions with a smile. Let's thank all the workers in this hotel who are making our visit pleasant and memorable.
I also want to express my thanks to the working journalists who are here to learn and report on our efforts. Thank you for doing your job.
Finally, thanks to everyone who has traveled far and near to attend this conference. The lives of your friends, neighbors, co-workers and family members may very well depend on what you take home from here, so let's learn everything we can from each other. Let's make a difference.
For caring enough to come here today: Muchas gracias.