Fighting for Workers This Labor Day

For most people, Labor Day marks the end of summer or back to school and for many an election season. For me, Labor Day has always been what it was originally intended to be: A day to celebrate the contributions that working men and women have made to the strength and prosperity of the country.

It's become somewhat of a tradition for labor secretaries to use Labor Day to speak on the status of the American worker -- to give a "State of the American Worker" report, if you will.

Some have made remarks from podiums. Others have testified on Capitol Hill. Some have chosen to address think tanks, corporations, or labor unions. I want to talk directly to you -- the American worker.

Many of you have told me that you want an America to "produces things again." You want a nation that is strong, that leads the international marketplace in innovation and a commitment to quality. And you want a government that is responsive, pragmatic and understands your needs.

But more than anything else, no matter where I go and who I talk to, you've told me "we need jobs."

And after 18 months, I have never been more confident that we are headed in the right direction, or more certain that our country must put creating jobs ahead of partisan roadblocks and petty political games.

When President Obama came into office, he inherited an economy that was losing as many as 750,000 jobs each month. We had to act immediately to stop our economy from going into another Great Depression and reverse the dangerous trend of job loss. The American Reinvestment and Recovery Act made unprecedented investments for a new clean-energy economy, revitalized infrastructure and transportation, helped transform health information technology, and helped make America more competitive for generations to come.

Now, instead of losing jobs, we have actually added them in the private sector every month. We have averaged about 90,000 jobs for the last seven months.

But we've accomplished something else too, and this is important. The Recovery Act saved millions of American jobs in the auto manufacturing industry. Those efforts also kept health care workers in clinics and community hospitals. They kept hundreds of thousands of teachers in classrooms, and police and firefighters on the beat -- where they should be.

And although the Republicans criticized him, the president stepped up and saved both Chrysler and GM, keeping manufacturing jobs in America.

When others told him to give up, he made clear that failure was not an option. We cut taxes for middle class families and made it easier for small businesses to hire new workers.

But, there are still too many Americans who are struggling. For young people, people of color, and people in regions of the country hit hardest by the recession, the unemployment rate is much higher.

During my travels this year, I've never once heard working people -- or people who need and want work -- demand special treatment. Americans don't want a hand out, they just want a level playing field with clear rules, an opportunity to work hard and a fair chance to provide for their families and get ahead.

These are the people I think about every single day, and they constantly renew my faith in the American worker.

We've focused on the engine of job creation, and that's small businesses. I've seen time and time again the big impact that small business hiring has on a community. We've expanded credit to small businesses and we are making it possible for American entrepreneurs to create and grow businesses that will put people to work.

We are also investing in a new American foundation -- a whole new industry and employer and that's clean energy. We look at that investment two ways -- advances in biofuels, wind and solar power will not only reduce our dependence on foreign energy, but also reenergize the American manufacturing sector.

These jobs require skill, preparation, and hard work. I've heard often in my travels that Americans want an America where hard work is rewarded. As your Labor Secretary, I want that too.

Renewing faith in the American economy and getting people back to work is about making the connections between people, training, and opportunities. This Labor Day I'm incredibly excited to announce -- a new online tool to help do just that.
By visiting the site and adding information about your most recent job, you can see exactly what skills you need for other jobs, find local training and education providers and view real, local job postings. There are jobs out there, and I'm doing all that I can to help people find them and employers fill them.

These are important steps, but the big question now is -- what's next? So on this Labor Day, my message to you is this. We have a lot of work to do -- together.

In the weeks and months ahead, policymakers will be debating what should come next.
There are some who believe that when times are tough, it's time to get tough on workers. I don't buy that.

I believe -- and I am committed to -- making training opportunities widely available, so unemployed workers at every level can retool and reenter the workforce. Cutting corners on worker health and safety isn't the answer. Keeping workers safe matters far more than saving a few cents -- it also improves a company's bottom line. And we cannot deny workers a voice. I recognize, respect and celebrate a worker's right to organize and bargain collectively.

As individuals, and as a nation, we have very important choices to make, and each one merits careful and informed discussion. Each and every one of us has something at stake, and we simply cannot afford to make the wrong choices.

As we honor the contributions of American workers this Labor Day, there is optimism about the future of our economy. We are a resilient nation, with some of the most driven and dedicated workers on the planet. And, "Good and safe jobs for everyone" is more than a slogan at your U.S. Department of Labor -- it's a deep and sincere commitment that we've made to American workers and their families.

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