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October 6, 2008    DOL Home > Newsroom > Speeches & Remarks   

Speeches by Secretary Elaine L. Chao

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Remarks Prepared for Delivery by
U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao
DOL APA Heritage Month Observance
Washington, D.C.
Friday, May 9, 2008

Thank you, Anna [Associate Deputy Secretary, Office of Public Liaison].

Each May, I have the great pleasure of helping our country and our community celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. This is a very special occasion as it marks my eighth observance and the final year of my tenure as U.S. Secretary of Labor.

This celebration is a great opportunity to help our fellow Americans appreciate Asian Pacific American heritage and the many contributions that our community has made to our country. We're pleased that Franklin Odo from the Smithsonian, is our special guest speaker.

I also want to recognize the officers and the board of the Asian Pacific American Council. Thank you for all that you do on behalf of the Asian Pacific American community here at DOL! One of the things I'll remember most, APAC became an official chapter of the Federal Council in January 2004 during my tenure.

Asian Pacific Americans are one of the fastest growing ethnic groups in the U.S. Over the past 15 years, the Asian Pacific American population has grown from about 3 percent of America's total population to about 5 percent. And along with our increasing presence in mainstream America, the Asian Pacific American community has also grown in what we have been able to achieve.

The percentage of Asian Pacific Americans in the federal workforce has increased from 4.5 percent in 2000 to 5.3 percent in 2007. This Administration has appointed more than 400 Asian Pacific Americans to highest level positions across the federal government. That's more than all the previous administrations combined. And, the U.S. Department of Labor has the highest number of Asian American appointees of any agency in the federal government.

But there is always more that can be done. So at the Department of Labor, we have launched several programs to help Asian Pacific Americans — and other underserved communities — take advantage of the opportunities available in this country.

For the first time ever, since 2003, the Bureau of Labor Statistics now reports monthly employment data on Asian Pacific Americans as a separate, independent category. That's how we now know that the unemployment rate for Asian Pacific Americans is right around 3 percent.

The Department has also made a special effort to target enforcement of our nation's wage and hour laws on industries that employ large numbers of immigrants. In 2007, the Department recovered more than $220 million for workers who did not receive the wages they were due, many of whom were vulnerable immigrants.

We have also created the annual Asian Pacific American Federal Career Advancement Summit, to help our community access the skills necessary to advance within the federal workforce. The very first one took place in May 2002 in our auditorium, and about two hundred people attended. Today, these summits are held at major hotels around town because the crowds are so large — more than 1100 people attended the last one. And, we have more than 1300 expected this year. We open the doors for all who are interested. And, in fact, we are also growing more diverse every year. I should also note that the training received there is officially approved by the Office of Personnel Management.

In addition, we created the annual Opportunity Conference. This was specifically designed to help underserved communities, including Asian Pacific Americans, access greater opportunities in mainstream America. We've now had five Opportunity Conferences and these, too, have become very popular and have grown by leaps and bounds. Attendance has now reached over 1000.

Also, to help entrepreneurs, the Department has translated numerous labor law materials into multiple languages, including Chinese, Vietnamese, and Korean so that employers and workers with limited English proficiency would know their rights and responsibilities.

And in an effort to help foster a new generation of leaders and promote diversity in the workforce, the Department established an internship program that over 100 Asian Pacific have participated in. In addition, every year I meet with all of the Asian Pacific American interns in the Washington D.C. area to highlight careers in leadership.

There are tremendous possibilities ahead. Over the next 10 years, 60 percent of the federal workforce will be eligible for retirement. And more than one-third of employees in SES positions are expected to retire. This upcoming wave of retirements presents a wonderful opportunity for advancement.

I hope you're preparing for these opportunities, because as our country becomes part of an increasingly worldwide economy, diversity is emerging as a key competitive advantage for our country. As the private sector workforce increases in diversity, our government ranks should reflect this diversity as well.

I'm so proud of the many accomplishments we've achieved together over these last seven-plus years. And, I am always so grateful for the wonderful support I've received from you and from all the Asian Pacific American community over the years.

We have sown the seeds of change, and I hope you will continue our efforts. This means continuing to prepare yourself for leadership roles. I've said this many times — learning how to be an effective leader is not easy. In fact, it's one of the hardest things I've had to learn in my life. It's a never-ending process.

I am confident that — with your commitment — the seeds of change we have planted will grow and create more hope and opportunity for our community and for all Americans.

So thank you for being here today and for sharing in this celebration.

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