Charles N. Jeffress
National Association of
Governmental Labor Officials
Annual Summer Conference
July 21, 1998
- Partnership can take many forms-limited, general, junior, senior, silent, equal, vested.
But whatever the form, in every case, the partners have found it more profitable to work
together than to go it alone.
Partnership makes sense for all of us who care about workers and employers. Your
NAGLO conferences give you a great forum for sharing issues and working to solve
problems that cut across state lines. I want you to know that Secretary Herman and all of
us in the U.S. Department of Labor are committed to working in partnership with state
- For more than 50 years, your association has been meeting to compare notes, to learn
from one another, and to talk about national issues that affect each of us. I commend you
on your commitment to continuing this dialogue, and on behalf of Secretary Herman, I
offer you the partnership of the U.S. Department of Labor in keeping the dialogue going.
- At OSHA, we depend on partnership -- with employers and employees, with trade
associations and unions and with state departments of labor -- to improve safety and health
- Today, OSHA covers more than 100 million workers at 6 million sites. Together with
those of you running state running OSHA programs, we have about 2,000 inspectors or
one inspector for every 3,000 worksites and every 50,000 employees. No other regulatory
agency is so underfunded for the task before it. Clearly, if workplace safety and health
depends upon inspections alone, we're not going to succeed.
- That's why we must concentrate on results rather than activities. We must use our
resourcefulness to bridge the gap between our resources and our responsibilities. We
need to leverage our resources to multiply our results. And leveraging depends upon
partners who share our goals and help carry the load.
- If we care about workers and business owners, we must work together on many issues.
For example, there's a wage gap between skilled and unskilled workers. And it's getting
bigger. Last month the New York Times reported that the gap is even wider than it looks.
That's because unskilled workers fall short in benefits and quality of work life as well as
- We need to protect low-wage workers. They deserve a better deal -- a higher wage and
safe and healthful working conditions.
- But we also need to help workers get the skills they need to compete in a global,
information-based economy. Fifty years ago, 60 percent of the workforce was unskilled
and 20 percent skilled with the rest in professional positions. Today it's just the opposite.
We need 60 percent skilled workers and only 20 percent unskilled workers.
- That's why the House plan to eliminate summer jobs for youth and slash the President's
School-to-Work initiative is so short-sighted. We may save a dollar today. But we'll
spend much more tomorrow if we don't invest now in our youth.
- As Secretary Herman puts it, "Some may say we can't afford these programs, but I say we
can't afford not to have them." We need to introduce teens to the workforce. We need to
convince them that education pays. We need to show them that skills matter. And most
of all, we need to reinforce the core value that responsibility and work bring reward.
- For those already out of school, we need the President's GI Bill for America's Workers -- a
job training reform bill. A high school dropout is four times more likely to be
unemployed than a college graduate. And this bill would invest $250 million in local
efforts to reach these young people. The bill has bipartisan backing because it
emphasizes local flexibility, accountability and choice. It streamlines programs, cuts red
tape and provides customized service.
- We also need to assist those making the transition from welfare to work. President
Clinton's promise to end welfare as we know it has been fulfilled. More than 3 million
Americans have left the welfare rolls. We need to help wage earners from these families
move into the workforce. That means help with childcare and transportation. It means
developing interpersonal skills as well as job skills.
- We know we face a challenge with those who are the hardest to serve -- those who remain
on the welfare rolls. Long term cases. Adults with limited math and reading skills. Poor
work histories. Those struggling to overcome problems with substance abuse. We need
to help them overcome employment barriers and break the cycle of dependency. We need
to invest in their future -- and ours.
- This is a great time to do it. We have the healthiest economy in over a generation.
President Clinton has proposed the first balanced budget in 30 years. Unemployment
remains near record lows. Inflation is the lowest in 32 years. We've created 16 million
new jobs since the President took office.
- And there's $3 billion in this year's budget to help address the tough cases. The majority
of those funds, as you know, go directly to local communities to pay for innovative and
creative welfare-to-work strategies. Those dollars are designed for "outside the box"
ideas rather than "inside-the-beltway" programs.
- There are other issues we need to address together -- retirement savings and pensions, for
example. One of every two Americans has no pension coverage at work. And one of
three who could participate in a 401(k) program -- doesn't. Plus, Americans save less than
four pennies of every dollar. That's a recipe for a lean retirement.
- President Clinton and Secretary Herman held a summit on retirement savings last month.
Their findings are a wake-up call for us all. But three groups merit special attention.
Women -- who are often concentrated in jobs without pensions, where nearly three of four
earn less than $25,000. Minorities -- since fewer than two-thirds of both blacks and
Hispanics have private pensions. And small businesses -- where 32 million of the 50
million Americans without pension coverage work.
- We need to say, "If you're saving, keep it up. If you haven't started, begin today." And
we need to work with small businesses to help them set up pensions to protect their
- Another area of concern -- here and abroad -- is abusive child labor. As a father of four
children, this is an issue I care about deeply. No kids should have to sacrifice their
childhood for the sake of their family's livelihood. And no business should make its
profit by exploiting the labor of the youngest and most vulnerable among us.
- I'm proud that the Department of Labor is providing leadership on this issue. We are
working with Senator Tom Harkin to modernize U.S. domestic child labor laws. And we
are working with the International Labor Organization to address this issue
- In OSHA, we're moving forward on a number of fronts. Since the agency was created 27
years ago, workplace fatalities have been cut in half. Occupational injury and illness rates
have been declining for the past five years, dropping in 1996 to the lowest level on
- States operating their own OSHA programs have contributed to this success. Employers
and employees who've recognized the value of working together have made it possible.
Partnership is paying off in the safety and health-in both human and financial terms.
- Of course, our job remains unfinished. The numbers and the stories of individuals cross
your desk and mine every day. Even with the progress we've made, nearly 50 American
workers are injured every minute of each 40-hour workweek. Almost 17 die each day.
We must keep looking for ways to improve working conditions.
- At OSHA, we are looking at success in very practical, measurable terms as stated in our
five-year strategic plan. One of our goals is to help employers in 100,000 workplaces
where we initiate a major intervention to reduce their injury and illness rates by 20
percent over the next five years. We're also striving for a 15-percent reduction in injuries
and illnesses among five high hazard industries-food processing, nursing homes,
shipyards, logging and construction. And we're seeking a 15-percent reduction in three
specific injuries and illnesses-silicosis, amputations and lead poisoning.
- But perhaps our most important goal is fostering a workplace culture that views worker
safety and health as an inherent part of work. That means a safety and health program.
- Safety and health programs are the critical difference between employers with high injury
rates and those with low rates. In North Carolina, we only found a few more hazards at
sites with high workers' comp claims than at those with low injury rates. It wasn't the
number of hazards that resulted in the higher rate of injuries; it was the lack of an
effective safety and health program. That finding made me a believer.
- Before I leave office, I want an effective safety and health program to become a
fundamental responsibility of every employer in the country. That's the only way to
ensure ongoing progress in workplace safety and health.
- But meanwhile, we are using every opportunity to encourage employers to establish
safety and health programs. The Cooperative Compliance Program is OSHA's primary
strategy to build partnership with employers who most need our intervention. CCP would
offer a reduced chance of inspection to employers with high injury and illness rates in
exchange for establishing or improving a safety and health program for workers.
- Unfortunately, CCP is on hold right now as the result of a judicial stay. The challenge to
CCP brought by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other trade associations will
probably not be resolved until early next year.
- So, we've moved to Plan B-an interim inspection effort targeted using the site-specific
injury and illness data we collected last year from 80,000 employers. We're looking
forward to having CCP vindicated in court so we can implement our partnership option
for employers who need our help most.
- In the context of workplace safety and health programs, there's another safety issue that
we all need to address over the next 18 months-and that is Y2K. As businesses gear up
to solve their Year 2000 computer problems, safety and health systems need to be
considered as well. Where are all those computer chips with timing and reporting
capabilities that are embedded in technical systems? It's critical that companies find
them and make corrections to prevent the failure of essential safety systems.
- Another top priority for me is promulgating an ergonomics standard. More than one of
every five illnesses and lost-time injuries in 1996 resulted from repetitive motion or
overexertion. The financial cost is staggering-billions of dollars in direct and indirect
costs. Our staff is meeting with stakeholders today and Thursday to discuss our progress
in this area and to explore options for some of the more difficult issues. We hope to be
ready to publish a proposed ergonomics standard next summer.
- I know some states are moving ahead in developing their own standards to prevent
musculoskeletal disorders. California's standard took effect a year ago. North Carolina
has announced its intention to develop a standard, and Washington state is considering
the issue. The American National Standards Institute is seeking comment on its draft
ergonomics standard. Clearly there's widespread recognition that this is a workplace
issue that demands our attention now. Let's pool our information. Let's share success
stories. Let's work together to find the best ways to protect workers against these painful
and debilitating injuries. Those states that are moving ahead, I salute you for your efforts.
- We've also been able to work together with the Congress on a bipartisan basis on some
issues. Two bills sponsored by Representative Cass Ballenger that we supported recently
became law. One wrote OSHA's consultation program into law. The other prohibits
OSHA from using inspection or citation quotas to measure its compliance officers. Those
two bills represent a sensible approach that essentially codifies current OSHA practice.
- There are other changes that Congress could make in the Occupational Safety and Health
Act to improve protection for employees. We need to cover public employees-federal,
state and local-in all states, not just the 23 that run their own OSHA programs.
Whistleblowers need more protections, and we need stiffer criminal penalties-from a
misdemeanor to a felony-for employers whose willful conduct causes the death of an
- I am pleased with our progress in OSHA. And I'm pleased with the partnerships we've
developed with the Congress, with states and with employers and employees. I want to
expand those cooperative ventures.
- For most of us, life is going well in the U.S. in 1998. The economic signals are
promising, and the mood is optimistic. Now, more than ever, we need to see that
everyone shares in the prosperity.
- Let's banish forever abusive child labor and sweatshops. Let's boost wages for those at
the bottom. Let's help those already in the workforce build their skills. Let's work with
those in school and those making the transition from welfare to work to see that they
succeed. Let's provide safe and healthful work environments. And let us all save today
to build the nest egg we will need in retirement tomorrow.