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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 Delivery by
U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao
EVE/EPIC Awards Ceremony
Washington, D.C.
Thursday, October 16, 2008

Thank you Vicki [Lipnic, Assistant Secretary, Employment Standards Administration] for that introduction. This is the last time I'll have the honor of presenting these awards — on the 25th anniversary of their establishment. So I want to thank everyone for their commitment to equal opportunity.

Vicki, Charles [James, Deputy Assistant Secretary — ESA, and Director, Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs], and the entire staff of the Office of Federal Contract Compliance deserve a special thanks on this Silver Anniversary commemoration. Today the Department is actually celebrating three awards: The Secretary's Opportunity Award, the EVE or Exceptional Voluntary Efforts Awards, and the EPIC or Exemplary Public Interest Contribution Awards. By recognizing the creativity and determination of these organizations, we are affirming this Administration's commitment to equal opportunity.

The businesses, universities, and nonprofits selected for this year's awards go above and beyond the legal minimum that our equal opportunity laws require. They serve as models for employers and for our country's underserved populations.

Advancing this nation's cherished ideal of equal opportunity is one of the most important missions of the Department of Labor. As many of you know, the OFCCP plays the lead role by enforcing equal opportunity laws on federal contractors, who employ close to one-fourth of the entire private sector work force. They include some of the largest employers in our nation's economy.

Over the last three years the Department has consistently set new records in protecting workers from workplace discrimination. In FY 2008 alone, the Department recovered more than $67 million on behalf of over 19,000 workers who were subjected to employment discrimination. And since 2001, the Department has increased by 133 percent the amount recovered for workers who encountered discrimination.

Let me also note that today marks the eighth time that Charles James has overseen these Awards. So it's appropriate to underscore the changes Charles and the whole dedicated OFCCP team have brought about to ensure equal opportunity.

The OFCCP today is a much more focused organization that seeks out the worst actors among federal contractors. Its emphasis is on rooting out systemic discrimination, which involves larger classes of victims and broad patterns of action that suppress equal opportunity.

In addition to this change in focus on the worst actors, the Department also emphasizes compliance assistance — helping employers promote equal opportunity — as a tool to increase its capacity to fight workplace discrimination. When federal contractors are clear on what is expected of them, they can more effectively monitor their own employment policies. It is important to note that the Department's compliance assistance efforts are not intended to replace enforcement programs. They are in addition to strong, targeted enforcement. But the Department believes that it is our responsibility to make sure workers and employers know and understand what they need to do to comply with the law. This combined approach is the best way to protect workers.

The awards presented today showcase innovative employers who expand employment opportunities for Americans in traditionally underserved communities, including minorities, women, Americans with disabilities, and military personnel and veterans. Today's award winners enable the traditionally underserved to excel. Tapping this underused pool of talent strengthens our economy, our communities and our country.

Broad outreach, new recruitment venues and methods, mentoring, workplace flexibility, education support systems, military pay supplements, and internships are among the means these and other exemplary employers are using. They have displayed determination and imagination. So congratulations to all of today's awardees!

It is now my pleasure to present the Secretary of Labor's Opportunity Award. This recognition is given to a federal contractor who has done the most to promote equal access to employment opportunity over the past fiscal year. Today, we recognize Johns Hopkins Health System based in Baltimore, Maryland.

Johns Hopkins Health System was founded in 1986 to coordinate the wholly owned subsidiaries of Johns Hopkins Hospital, Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, Howard County General Hospital, Johns Hopkins Medical Services Corporation, and Johns Hopkins Community Physicians. Today, the system has an institutional commitment to diversity and fosters an environment where every worker feels his or her contribution is valued. Johns Hopkins Health System respects, embraces, and celebrates diversity and inclusion. It places a high priority on making every patient, visitor, and each of its 10,715 workers feel welcome and respected.

Johns Hopkins has given close attention to investing in employees' futures through programs that match staff and student ambitions to fill urgent skill shortages. Various programs seek to recruit, engage, and retain a diverse workforce at all levels of the organization. As might be expected in a health care system that includes hospitals, there are programs for nurses, for example programs devoted to Hispanic geriatric nursing. But there are also programs to recruit high school students, to reach out to veterans, to counsel workers with disabilities, and to mentor workers currently employed by Johns Hopkins. Taken together, these efforts help make Johns Hopkins Health System a model equal opportunity employer.

Congratulations! And thank you for all you do to promote equal opportunity for America's workers.

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