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Labor Secretary Speaks to National Action Network

Washington, DC
Thursday, April 12, 2012

The annual convention of the National Action Network brings together leaders in civil rights, government, business and media and within the church to discuss issues of civil rights.

This panel focuses on congressional action and organized bargaining rights and features leaders from six different unions. It is followed by a keynote speech from Labor Secretary Hilda Solis.

Secretary Solis told the labor leaders that the labor and civil rights movements march "mano-en-mano, hand-in-hand." She spoke of her own background as a first generation American, and said that her parents were seeking the American dream for their children. The secretary talked about President Obama's policies, saying they sought to help every person, regardless of economic status. "We're better off when everyone gets a fair shot," she said.

She highlighted Labor Department programs targeting veterans, minority women and the long-term unemployed. She criticized Republican plans to reduce the safety net, and said that without Federal Student Aid, she and millions of other working-class students would not have been able to attend college.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius spoke to the convention about how the Affordable Care Act would affect the African American community get access to health care and other measures her department is taking to make health care more affordable.

Collective bargaining, especially for public employees like teachers and public safety officers, has taken center stage in state and national politics over the past few years, following Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's (R) decision to eliminate collective bargaining rights for most public employees in his state.  Governors from several other states, many elected on a wave of Tea Party support, followed with similar bills. The Wisconsin governor is facing a recall election next month based largely on his move to weaken unions.

The panelists argued that the Republican governors of Wisconsin and Ohio sought to divide people in their states, and urged people to think about the public sector workers they knew, including teachers and other public service providers. Eliseo Medina, Secretary-Treasurer of the Service Employees International Union argued that, if it was left up to employers, there would be no middle class because those employers would refuse to provide health insurance and a living wage.

When workers make more money, that money circulates through the community and raises the living standards or union and non-union workers, Medina said. "Collective bargaining helps everybody."

Updated: Monday, June 18, 2012 at 12:05pm (ET)

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