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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
79th LULAC National Conference & Exposition
Washington, D.C.
Thursday, July 10, 2008

Thank you, Alicia [Rios, National Vice President of the Midwest for LULAC]. Let me also recognize Rosa Rosales [LULAC National President] and Brent Wilkes [LULAC National Executive Director].

It's wonderful to be here at your annual luncheon!

This is likely to be my last appearance as Secretary of Labor at a major LULAC gathering. So let me thank you for the warm welcome I've received over the years. Together, we have made a difference! And I have appreciated the opportunity to work with you.

Being from Texas, President George W. Bush has a special affection and appreciation for the Hispanic community. So it's not surprising that this Administration includes a number of "firsts," some of whom you've already heard from during this conference.

Secretary Carlos Gutierrez is our firstHispanic Secretary of Commerce. Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was our nation's firstHispanic Attorney General. And former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Mel Martinez, is now the firstCuban American U.S. Senator. Anna Escobedo Cabral has been appointed the Treasurer of the United States, succeeding Rosario Marin. In fact, President Bush has appointed the most Hispanic American Cabinet members, and the highest number of Hispanic Presidential appointees, in our nation's history.

These leaders are just a few examples of the tremendous contributions of Hispanic Americans to our country. So this afternoon, I'd like talk about the key role Hispanic Americans will continue to play in our future, and the Department of Labor's efforts to help many more Hispanic Americans access opportunity.

Diversity is among America's strongest competitive advantages. So as our nation increasingly becomes part of the global economy, there is an even greater need to ensure that the doors of opportunity remain wide open for Americans of all backgrounds.

Hispanic Americans already play a key role in our economy and will remain a source of talent as our country more fully engages in the global economy. Hispanics' high labor force participation rate is an indication of their strong contributions to the U.S. labor force. The rate is 69.0 percent, compared to 66.1 percent for the overall labor force of over 154 million workers.

And, Hispanics' share of the labor force is expected to grow dramatically. Although the overall labor force is projected to grow 0.8 percent annually in the decade ending 2016, the Hispanic labor force is projected to grow over three times faster, at 2.7 percent annually. This means that by 2016, Hispanics are projected to account for 16.4 percent of the labor force. And by 2050, 24.3 percent! So the Hispanic community plays a critical role in ensuring that our country remains strong, diverse and vibrant.

The World Economic Forum recently released its Global Competitiveness Report for 2007-2008. And, this year, the U.S. topped the rankings as the most competitive economy in the world. And, last September 2007, the UN — through the International Labor Organization — issued a report naming America's workers the most productive of any nation.

This is positive, encouraging news. And one of the factors that will help our country's workforce remain strong and productive is its growing diversity. Tapping into that diversity often requires ambitious outreach programs that draw upon the expertise of organizations like LULAC.

At the Labor Department, we've made outreach a key part of our mission to ensure the health and safety, wages, retirement security, and competitiveness of America's workforce.

The Department has created many initiatives to help traditionally underserved communities, including Hispanic Americans, take advantage of the new opportunities being created in our economy. The Hispanic Worker Training Initiative helps Hispanic American workers access opportunity in rapidly growing sectors of the economy. An important collaborator in this effort has been one of LULAC's sister organizations, SER — Jobs for Progress National, Inc.

Another key mission of the Labor Department is to ensure that workers are safe on the job and fully and fairly compensated. Since 2001, the Department's approach of strong enforcement and compliance assistance has produced safer, healthier workplaces. Since 2002, the overall workplace injury and illness rate has declined by 17 percent. And since 2001, the fatality rate among Hispanic workers has fallen by almost 17 percent. The Department recognized the need to improve the safety record among Hispanic workers. That's why we held the first-ever Hispanic Health and Safety Summit in this Administration.

But, much more needs to be done. The Department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, has a longstanding strategic priority to ensure that non-English-speaking workers are empowered with the information they need to stay healthier and safer on the job. And so, OSHA relies on many partnerships with Hispanic organizations to distribute important health and safety materials. These include partnerships with Hispanic chambers of commerce, nonprofit organizations, professional associations, local governments, foreign consulates. And the Department works with Mexico's Ministry of Foreign Affairs to reach out to vulnerable immigrants to make sure they are protected on the job and paid a full days wage for a full days work. It is the policy of this Administration to enforce workplace health, safety, and compensation laws regardless of immigration status.

The Department also remains active in Gulf Coast recovery efforts, working with media, churches and community-based organizations to help vulnerable workers. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, there were many non-English speaking workers among the courageous early responders to the widespread devastation along the Gulf Coast. Immediately, OSHA became aware of the need to reach out to this active population. To address safety concerns, agency officials worked diligently to provide information to these workers while overcoming language barriers — through partnerships, interpreters, bilingual materials, and using the media.

This Administration has also targeted enforcement of our nation's wage and hour laws on industries that employ large numbers of vulnerable workers. And, since 2001, the Department has increased the amount of wages recovered for workers by 67 percent. Even in English, our nation's labor laws are very complex and can seem confusing. And so, labor law materials have been translated into multiple languages, including Spanish.

Retirement security is an issue free of cultural boundaries, so it's important that workers of all backgrounds take an interest in their savings. To help workers take greater ownership of their future, the Department has bilingual Benefits Advisors all over the country who directly assist workers with retirement issues.

Finally, the Department also launched an annual Opportunity Conference to help employers in traditionally underserved communities access greater opportunities in mainstream America. I know many in this audience have attended these conferences. We've had five of them and attendance has reached over 1000!

LULAC has been a valuable supporter of the annual Opportunity Conference. And, I am pleased it will again serve as National Co-Sponsor so that the Labor Department and the community can help Hispanic Americans access opportunity. Details of the next Opportunity Conference are still in the works. For updates or more information on the event, please visit

Thank you all for all for the tremendous work you are doing to build bridges of understanding between Hispanic Americans and mainstream America. Working together, we can ensure that the doors to opportunity continue to remain wide open for all.

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