Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor
For Occupational Safety and Health
Labor Rights Week
Workshop: The U.S. System of Labor Rights Protection
Mexican Cultural Institute
Wednesday, September 1, 2010
Good afternoon. Thank you for your interest in improving conditions for workers in your individual nations and for all nations in the Western Hemisphere. We share as well your dedication protecting workers' rights.
We hope that your participation in this afternoon's workshop leads to an exchange of ideas today as well as continued and expanded partnerships among our nations in the future.
In your workshop this afternoon you will learn about the many ways that the Department of Labor champions workers' rights. For example, the Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division enforces some of this nation's most comprehensive federal labor laws concerning minimum wage, overtime pay, recordkeeping, child labor, protecting workers under the Family and Medical Leave Act, and the rights of migrant workers.
On April 1, Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis launched a new public awareness campaign, entitled "We Can Help" or "Podemos Ayudar." This national multi-lingual campaign uses public service announcements, videos, publications, and public transportation and billboard advertisements to encourage vulnerable workers -- often immigrants -- to report violations of Wage and Hour Division laws. These campaign materials reinforce the message that the Department of Labor enforces its laws regardless of immigration status. The Wage and Hour Division works closely with advocacy groups and others to ensure that these campaign materials reach their intended audience, including Mexican consulate offices.
The Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration is principally concerned with protecting workers from hazards on the job. Under the leadership of Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, OSHA places a strong emphasis on practices that focus on preventing worker injuries and illnesses as a way of ensuring workers' rights to safe and healthful workplaces.
The Department of Labor and OSHA enter into partnerships with the governments of many nations around the world to ensure the health and safety of workers. Through various programs of cooperation, the OSHA shares information and good practices, conducts training, and pursues productive exchanges that will improve conditions for workers everywhere. For example, the United States enjoys a program of cooperation with Mexico that benefits workers in both our nations.
In May 2010, Secretary Soils and Mexican Ambassador Sarukhan signed a revised Joint Declaration between our nations. One month later, OSHA Assistant Secretary David Michaels and WHD Deputy Administrator Nancy Leppink joined Ambassador Sarukhan in signing Letters of Arrangement for their Agencies. Under these arrangements, OSHA and WHD offices are working with Mexican Consulates in major cities across the United States to bring workers' rights information to Spanish-speaking workers and employers.
In April -- one month before signing our revised agreement -- Secretary Solis presided over a historic National Action Summit for Latino Worker Health and Safety in Houston, Texas. Nearly a thousand workers, employers, labor leaders, representatives from community and faith-based organizations, government, and Mexican consulates gathered for two days to seek new and effective ways to improve workers' knowledge of their workplace rights and their ability to exercise those rights.
Sometimes little things can be very effective: We have received strong, favorable reactions to a set of pocket-sized cards, bookmarks and magnets that we published in Spanish and English to remind workers that they have rights and can come to OSHA if they need help. Samples of these items are in your information packets. We ship these to our field offices around the country, and OSHA inspectors distribute them in the course of their encounters with workers.
In any country, immigrant workers may be the most vulnerable to exploitation, and in the United States we are developing creative ways to reach out to these workers.
In December 2009, the Federal Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division and OSHA signed an alliance with the Consulate General of Mexico in New York to promote the labor rights and human rights of Spanish-speaking workers. The New York State Department of Labor and the Catholic Migration Office of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn also joined the alliance. Alliance participants are collaborating to support a call-in center that provides Mexican workers and other Hispanic workers in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut with education, guidance and assistance about their rights in the workplace. Workers who call the toll-free number receive information and help in English and Spanish regarding labor issues, including minimum wages, proper overtime compensation, youth employment rules, migrant and seasonal work protections, and the labor rights of workers and responsibilities of employers. When appropriate, the center directs calls and claims to the U.S. Department of Labor. All information provided by workers who call this center remains confidential.
In the course of your workshop this afternoon, you will learn more about how and why the Department of Labor assures workers' rights. We hope that your visit today will lead us into many stimulating discussions and productive outcomes for workers in your nations and throughout our hemisphere.
Our hope is that expanded cooperative efforts will help bring more nations here and around the world to observe a core of international labor standards.