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November 3, 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
Fraternal Order of Police California State Lodge Conference
Irvine, California
Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Thank you, President Canterbury for that introduction. Thank you for your leadership. You are a president who is always thinking about your members and working on their behalf. You also have an advocate in Jim Pasco [FOP National Executive Director] who is doing a great job for you in Washington. I want to thank Roger Mayberry [California State FOP Lodge President] and all of the members and delegates here for the opportunity to speak with you today.

In the last seven and a half years, it has been an honor for me to serve our country. I am especially proud of the close working relationship that the Department has developed with the Fraternal Order of Police.

This morning, I'd like to share some thoughts on the issues we have worked on together over the years and mention again, the debt of gratitude all Americans owe you and your members for the critical work you play in serving and protecting us every day.

In May of 2001, I was privileged to be the first Secretary of Labor to attend the National Peace Officers' Memorial. I have attended that very special ceremony every year since. This year, your president gave me the honor of being the keynote speaker, on behalf of President Bush. I was truly humbled by the experience and I thank you for allowing me that great privilege.

My experience joining you over the years, and especially this year, has helped me to appreciate and understand the code of duty, honor and sacrifice that make up the core values of our men and women in blue. The memorial service is a chance to meet with the families of those who have given their lives defending us at home. Comforting families as they honor their loved ones, mend their lives and move forward has been an unforgettable experience.

I am particularly proud that the Department of Labor, working with the FOP, could create such an important program as the Steve Young Memorial Scholarship. This scholarship is one way the Department has been able to make a direct, meaningful and positive impact on the lives of the families of fallen law enforcement officers. By offering tuition assistance and personalized employment services to spouses of fallen officers as they reenter the workforce, we have been able to help those families in their time of greatest need. Since the Scholarship's inception, the National Fraternal Order of Police Foundation has awarded 90 Steve Young Memorial Scholarships to help surviving spouses.

I am also pleased to say that the Department has extended the grant through June 2010. I hope that the close relationship between the Department and the FOP will continue for many years to come.

FOP members — and their families — make enormous sacrifices for their fellow citizens. Through these scholarships, spouses of fallen officers receive the assistance to help them get back on their feet financially. But, these courageous scholarship recipients also give something back. They are wonderful role models and show that even in the face of the most difficult challenge, there is always hope.

Many careers in our diverse economy attract determined professionals who are willing to give 100 percent of their effort. But only in a few professions are workers prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice in defense of the American people.

Law enforcement is not just a job, it is a calling: a calling that requires a strong sense of patriotism, a commitment to duty, and unquestionable integrity. In our society, law enforcement officers are a source of community trust and confidence. We live in a post-9/11 world, and that changing reality will continue to test our national character. As you all know very well, law enforcement officers experience the war on terror from a unique perspective.

Yet even in this post-9/11 world, dangers still lurk around every corner. Just last week in Washington, a police officer was shot during what the media has characterized as a "routine" traffic stop. Fortunately, his ballistic vest saved his life, but too many haven't been so fortunate. It's easy for those of us who aren't familiar with law enforcement to call what you do on a daily basis "routine." But I know, and you know, that in law enforcement nothing is ever "routine." You put your lives at risk every day — and that takes a special kind of person. As President Bush has said, when people are running away from danger, law enforcement officers are running towards it. And that takes the kind of personal courage and commitment to duty that has been the hallmark of policing since its founding days.

Law enforcement is hard work. You work long hours that test your bodies and your minds. That is why when the Department of Labor began the long overdue process of updating the nation's overtime rules, your needs were a priority. Thanks to the constructive engagement and close collaboration between the Department and the FOP, the right to overtime for police was clearly protected and strengthened — for the first time in U.S. history.

The effort to clear up ambiguities over who is entitled to overtime protections is ongoing. Last year, the Department of Labor filed an amicus brief in favor of police sergeants in New York City who were denied overtime. This is an example of how the Department will continue to seek overtime protections for those covered by the new regulations.

I am pleased that the Administration and the FOP are able to work together on other important issues fundamental to protecting the rights of union members. An example is the ongoing debate over the Employee Free Choice Act, or "Card Check". Card check threatens the fundamentally democratic tradition of the private ballot in union organizing elections. The card check proposal is an historic and drastic departure from the formality and sanctity of private ballot union elections as overseen by the National Labor Relations Board for the last 60 years. It is critical that we work together to ensure that workers' decision to join or not join a union is free from intimidation and coercion by either side. That right is protected by the private ballot.

This Administration has also been dedicated to improving occupational safety and health for all workers, including police officers. That's why I am pleased that a number of FOP members represent law enforcement on a variety of key Labor Department citizen advisory committees dedicated to improving occupational safety and health for workers.

America has many unique strengths. Key among them are our nation's democratic institutions, respect for the rule of law, transparency and accountability. And the dynamism and flexibility of our economy and workforce are the foundation of all that we are able to do in the world.

We all know that our economy has been going through a difficult period right now, especially these last two weeks as our financial markets work through some of the excesses of the past. And we all know that major regulatory changes — and other tools — will eventually be needed to address the excesses in the financial markets long term.

I want to assure all of you that the Administration is committed to working with Congress to resolve the immediate problems, and then work to fix the long-term challenges. We must ensure our economy continues to expand and remains a source of strength and stability for the entire world.

It is America's stability, our sense of optimism and the hope it creates that has made our country great. Some Americans tend to take this for granted. But many of us who immigrated to America appreciate just how precious it is. As law enforcement officers, you know firsthand how important security and stability are, because you fight the battle to preserve them everyday. You are the guarantors, the front line defenders, who make our way of life possible. You safeguard our homes and communities, keep the peace and help defend our country from those who would seek to do us harm.

So on behalf of a grateful nation, thank you very much for your sacrifice, your professionalism and your heroism. And thank you to the FOP, as well, for helping others recognize and appreciate what law enforcement officers do everyday to keep our country strong, safe and free.

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