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November 4, 2008    DOL Home > Newsroom > Speeches & Remarks   

Speeches by Secretary Elaine L. Chao

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Remarks Prepared for
U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao
95th Annual Department of Labor Honor Awards
Washington, D.C.
Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Thank you, Howard [Radzely, Deputy Secretary of U.S. Department of Labor]. This is our annual opportunity to celebrate the accomplishments of this Department and also our colleagues. And, I really do look forward to this every year. Let me thank the BIG Choir! And, our singers who sang that beautiful National Anthem — weren't they just spectacular! And, of course, I want to recognize the Joint Armed Forces Honor Guard from the Military District of Washington. They make us so proud. And, a special thank you to Assistant Secretary Pat Pizzella for chairing the Honor Awards Committee. And, thanks to everyone in OASAM for their work in putting together this ceremony.

We have a very special guest with us today, former U.S. Secretary of Labor Willard Wirtz. I have to say, I have a vested interest in seeing that former Secretaries are treated very well! As many of you know, Secretary Wirtz served in the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations. And, for some of you who are C-SPAN junkies and are flipping the channels on the weekends, you might also see replays of Secretary Wirtz's audiotapes of conversations with then-President Lyndon Johnson. Secretary Wirtz — your name and legacy are always remembered, every single day, by the Department especially because of the library bearing your name. We're delighted that you could be with us today. So, once again, let's give him another round of applause.

This year, 287 awards will be presented throughout our Department! Many of these awards will be presented during today's ceremony. And more than 100 of them will be awarded at regional ceremonies to be held later — so this is truly a department-wide celebration. All of the awardees were selected for their outstanding contributions to the Department and for their service to America's workforce.

This is a great annual tradition that also honors very special members of the DOL team, who have gone above and beyond the call of duty. In that regard, today we are honoring two heroic members of our DOL team who were called upon to face challenges that few of us will ever have to confront. One of them is Gary Jensen — known as "Gibb" Jensen to his friends and colleagues-- who made the ultimate sacrifice and gave his life trying to rescue others.

We are so honored that members of Gary's family were able to travel all the way from across the country to be with us today. Let me introduce them to you. I hope you'll also get a chance to say hello to them and to express our profound gratitude on behalf of the American people for the sacrifice that Gibb Jensen has made. Lola Jensen, his wife is here, as well as Robbie Jensen, his son, and Amy Shelley, his daughter. Gibb and Lola's two younger children, Dustin and Hayley, were not able to be with us today. Lola, please let them know that they are in our thoughts and prayers, as well. And, let me ask Lola and your children, Robbie and Amy, to please stand up so everyone can see you.

Gibb represented the best of America and the best of MSHA. We continue to be inspired and awed by the tremendous courage that he showed when he volunteered to go into a mine in uncertain circumstances and conditions. He volunteered in order to try and rescue others in distress, so they could be reunited with their families.

Frank Markosek is another hero whom we honor today. Frank was seriously injured in the same mission trying to rescue miners who were trapped. And, Frank Markosek's family is with us today, as well. He is unable to travel. And so, Trudy, his wife, is here and Tammy, his daughter. And, if I may ask Trudy and Tammy to please stand up so everyone can know who you are.

Gibb and Frank are shining examples of the courageous professionals who have served in this Department over the years. Professionals who care deeply about their mission and who try every single day to make sure we are doing all we can to protect America's workers. And so, on behalf of the entire U.S. Department of Labor team, we want to thank, once again, the families of Gibb Jensen and Frank Markosek. You have given so much. You have endured so much. And we honor you today, as we honor the courage and heroism of Gibb and Frank. You, too, are examples of the best our country has to offer. The debt that our country owes you can never be repaid. So we hope that you will accept our tributes, gratitude and prayers. The legacy that Gibb and Frank have demonstrated with their heroism will endure and live in our hearts and memories forever.

As we go on with this ceremony, I want to also point out others in the Department who are being recognized today. In addition to those distinguished for their service, 299 individuals throughout the Department will be recognized with Length of Service Awards for 35, 40, and 45 years of federal service! In fact, one of our colleagues, Edward C. Pratt from BLS, is celebrating 55 years of federal service. You'll see Edward Pratt here on the stage in a little while. And so, we've got to give him a round of applause when he does.

All of today's awards pay special tribute to individuals who have made an important difference in the lives of workers nationwide. And, as we celebrate our award winners, this ceremony also gives us an opportunity to reflect on the Department's many accomplishments — which are really your accomplishments. This past year:

  • The Department recovered a record $220 million for 341,000 workers who did not receive the wages they were due. This represents a 67 percentincrease since 2001.
  • The Department also posted record results in enforcing equal opportunity rights for individuals working for federal contractors — with an increase in financial recoveries of 78 percent since 2001.
  • And since FY 2001, the Department achieved monetary results of more than $10 billion for retirees' and workers' health, retirement, and other benefit plans.
  • The Department's multi-pronged approach has reduced workplace fatality and serious injury and illness rates to record lows. Since 2002, the overall injury and illness rate has declined by 17 percent. And since 2001, worker fatalities have dropped by 7 percent. Most notable is the reduction in fatalities among Hispanic workers of 17 percent since 2001.
  • Since 2001, the Department has paid over $3 billion in compensation and medical benefits to nuclear weapons workers and their survivors.
  • VETS launched the national HireVetsFirst campaign to help our servicemen and women transition to civilian life. In 2004, the Department created REALifelines to provide individualized job training, counseling, and reemployment and mentoring services to each and every soldier who was seriously injured or wounded in the War on Terror.
  • In FY 2007, the Department continued to be a good steward of the taxpayer's money by meeting or exceeding the goals of the President's Management Agenda. The Department received its 11th unqualified audit opinion and our seventh consecutive Certificate of Excellence in Accountability Report Program Award.

And there are so many more achievements, these are just a sampling. But, we thank each and every one of our colleagues and especially those in this room! All of our achievements this year have been possible because of a Department-wide commitment to work together and measure our progress with clear benchmarks. Our department does such important work every single day. And, I'm really, really proud of all we've been able to accomplish. And, I'm so proud of every single one of our colleagues who put their heart and soul into ensuring America is a better place. So, thank you so much for what you do.

And now, please join me in watching the special tribute video that AV has put together highlighting today's awardees and some of our special moments here at DOL. Stan Hankin and his team do such a great job every year — so we're in for a real treat! Let's check back in and see what Assistant Secretary Pizzella is doing!

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