FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: Alex Glass
Friday, August 17, 2007 (202) 224-2834
Remarks by U.S. Senator Patty Murray
Washington State Labor Council 50th Anniversary Convention
Speech Title: "When Working Families Stand Together, America Wins"
Thank you. Before I start, I just want to recognize Rick Bender for a minute. Rick -- not only are you
leading our state's labor council but you've been helping our friends in Colorado – doing two jobs at
the same time – and I can't thank you enough. Let's all give Rick a round of applause!
50 Years Ago – Leaders Made the Right Decisions
The people in this room make our state and our country strong, and I'm honored to help you celebrate
50 years of solidarity. Since this is a historic convention, I want to start with a little history. If you
pick up the latest issue of U.S. News and World Report, you'll see that the cover story is dedicated to
one year – 1957, which it describes as a "year that planted the roots for a new America." I want to
share three important things that happened in 1957.
First, a little airplane company in the Pacific Northwest flew a brand new airplane . . . the Boeing
Seven-Oh-Seven. That plane launched the start of the Jet Age, and so much of our state's economic
1957 was also a critical year in the Cold War. The Soviet Union launched Sputnik, and our country's
leaders had to make a decision. . . . How would we respond? Thankfully, they made the right
decisions. They invested in education and invested in our future. Those decisions helped America win
the Space Race and ultimately – win the Cold War.
And here in our state in 1957, labor leaders made a critical decision that changed our own history.
Two labor organizations came together because they believed that if Washington's workers could
speak with one voice, they could build a stronger future.
And they were right. Because of their efforts – because they came together – today we live and work
in one of the most progressive, worker-friendly, family-friendly, successful and dynamic states in the
country. That is something to celebrate.
And it all came from one idea – the idea that we can achieve more together than we ever could apart.
As I work on issues at the national level, I see how that idea helps not only our state -- but our entire
country. Because the truth is –
When working families stand together, America wins.
Now most Americans "get" that truth. They've seen how rising wages, family-friendly polices, and
safe workplaces make America strong.
But unfortunately, today there's a group of people in the White House and the Labor Department who
want to discredit that truth. They don't want working families to be able to stand together or speak out
together. Now to me, denying that helping workers helps America is like trying to deny gravity. It's
But the crowd in the White House has a unique take on reality. These are the people who brought us
the Iraq War, Halliburton, and the botched response to Hurricane Katrina.
They've never let the truth get in the way of a good theory.
So they're trying to roll back the clock – trying to silence workers and trying to cut training and safety.
Well friends, they've got a fight on their hands from all of us. Because we're not about to let them
destroy the foundation and the values that have made our country strong. They say America can't
afford to take care of its workers. I say we can't afford not to.
So today – as leaders – we have some choices in front of us – just like those leaders in 1957. And the
choices we make today will affect our country for the next 50 years. Those choices are how we answer
three critical questions.
Three Questions We Must Decide Today for the Next 50 Years
First, will workers be able to stand together – or will they have their voices silenced?
Second, will we invest in our workers and our infrastructure?
And third, will we protect our workers on the job and honor those who have served our
We need to push our government to answer those questions in the right way because the choices we
make today will shape how workers, their families and America fares over the next 50 years. Friends,
we've got a role to play in making those choices, so let's look at them one at a time.
1 – ALLOWING WORKERS TO STAND TOGETHER
First, will American workers be able to stand together?
Today, many workers face an unfair fight as they try to organize in the workplace. In fact, every 23
minutes in America, an employer fires or retaliates against a worker for their union activity.
That's unacceptable, and that's why I co-sponsored the Employee Free Choice Act. It would help
restore the balance in the relationship between employers and employees. In June, we brought that bill
on the Senate floor. And the moment we brought it up – Republican Senators started claiming that it
would cause a whole laundry list of problems. They were wrong, and I told them so. I stood on the
Senate floor, and I used my voice to give you a voice in that debate. I told them that working
Americans deserve to share in the prosperity they've created. I told them that working Americans
deserve to have a free choice on organizing – not a system that's stacked against them. And I told them
that union members are more likely to have higher wages, health insurance, a pension and all the
things that keep our country strong.
I fought, and I spoke out, and I debated and I voted – but at the end of the day we just didn't have
enough votes to pass the Employee Free Choice Act. To me, that was a sad day for working families.
But it was also a wake up call -- because it forced every member of the United States Senate to go on
the record as either supporting or opposing working families.
And it showed us that we need to create a Congress that will vote the right way for working families.
I've got to tell you that I'm not satisfied waiting for the next election to give workers their voices back.
Flawed NLRB Ruling
We all know that last year the National Labor Relations Board stripped thousands of hard working
Americans of their right to organize. In response, we're working to pass the "RESPECT Act." This bill
will clearly and logically distinguish between supervisors and workers, and it will open the door for
thousands of workers to access their right to organize.
Restoring Overtime Benefits
And I'm working to restore the overtime benefits that workers deserve. We all remember two years
ago how the Bush Administration pushed through a rule that denied overtime to millions of workers
around the country. That was wrong, and we're taking action. For my friends in state and local
government, I'm supporting the "Public Safety Employee-Employer Cooperation Act." It will extend
collective bargaining rights to many of those who put their lives on the line for us every day. So the
first question we face is – will America remain a place where workers can stand together for a better
future? I say "absolutely" but it won't be easy, and we've got real work to do.
2 - INVESTING IN OUR WORKERS AND OUR INFRASTRUCTURE
The second big question we face is -- Will our country invest in our workers and our infrastructure?
If we do, we'll have a more productive economy, a safer infrastructure, and we'll be able to compete
and win in the global economy. If we don't, we'll see American workers fall further and further
behind. So what can we do to move things in the right direction?
Well we started by making history on July 24th. That was the first time in a decade that we raised the
minimum wage across America. To me, that was the start of a new period of pro-worker policies
under the Democratic Congress, and there's a lot more to come.
Invest in Job Training
For example, we need to invest in job training. As I travel around our state, employers tell me that
they have a tough time finding the workers with the skills they need to fill their jobs. Today, in
Washington, we have about 145,000 people looking for work and about 87,000 vacancies. There's a
mismatch going on between the skills required by employers to be competitive and those that workers
are bringing to the table.
We know that in today's economy, the difference between a good job and "no job at all" is skills
training and access to apprenticeship opportunities. If we want our state and our nation to be
competitive in the global economy, we must make skills training for every worker a national priority.
As Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Employment and Workplace Safety, I've led the fight for
increased investment in our workforce development programs and workplace safety polices.
For the last four years, I've worked to reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act, the legislation that
establishes our nation's workforce development system. The bill has had strong bi-partisan support.
In fact, it passed the Senate twice by a unanimous vote. But, unfortunately, it became a target for
politically-charged riders and did not reach the President’s desk.
I'm committed to seeing that change this year. I've crafted this year's version, protecting programs that
are vital to the survival and growth of our nation's workforce and labor's unique place at the table in
our state. I'll continue to advocate for the passage of this bill with my colleagues in the Senate and
stand up for the job training needs of our workforce.
You know from experience that apprenticeship training programs are vital to workers and the success
of the economies of our local communities. But, the President has continued to propose job training
cuts every year he's been in office. That's the wrong priority. We must reverse this trend and invest in
our human capital at home.
State Labor Projects
The Governor and I also recognize the value of the innovative and creative workforce development
programs going on right here in Washington. I'm proud to say that I secured $1.4 million in federal
funding for critical workforce projects in the state that focus on youth development, building more
apprenticeships, and providing greater access to education and training programs.
We also need to invest in our infrastructure. The recent tragedy in Minneapolis showed us all that we
must address the dilapidating condition of our nation's bridges, roadways, dams and thoroughfares.
I've used my role as Chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing, and
Urban Development to fight for vital transportation priorities in our state and across the country.
First and foremost I rejected many of the most punitive cuts in transportation investment programs
proposed in the President’s budget. Decreasing funding in transportation is simply the wrong priority.
Over the past six years, I've secured $1 billion in federal funding for transportation needs across our
state to improve the condition of roads, bridges, and other major thoroughfares. That translates into
real family-wage jobs for Washington---more than 40,000 of them.
And friends – because of the tragedy in Minnesota – when the Senate returns to business I'm going to
add $1 billion to the Senate Transportation appropriations bill specifically to improve our nation's
3 - PROTECTING WORKERS ON THE JOB & RESPECTING VETERANS
Finally, we need to make sure our country will protect workers on the job and respect those who serve.
Under President Bush's watch, workers' safety has been put at risk. Over the last six years, OSHA has
only issued one new health and safety standard, and that was under court order. Every day, 16 people
die in this country because of unsafe workplaces, and yet the Bush Administration is acting like the
Maytag Repairman – sitting around with nothing to do.
We know that when it comes to protecting workers, there's a lot to do, and I'm holding OSHA's feet to
the fire. Earlier this year, I used my position as Chairman of the Subcommittee on Employment and
Workplace Safety to hold a hearing on OSHA and impose the Congressional oversight that is needed.
At that hearing, I heard from a Washington nurse, about OSHA's inexcusable delay in issuing hospital
ergonomic lifting standards and the impact that such neglect has had on our nurses. Well, we heard her
loud and clear, and we're working to require OSHA to give us a plan for issuing an ergonomic standard
and to issue a standard on helping workers pay for protective equipment.
One expert told us that the number of occupational illnesses and injuries are significantly
underreported. That's why I included $1 million in appropriations this year to study on-the-job
injuries. That'll help us prevent injuries in the future. For too long, OSHA protections have been
withheld from state and local employees and that's not fair. I'm proud to co-sponsor the "Protecting
America's Workers Act," which expands vital workplace protection standards to these workers in every
Protecting Workers from Harmful Exposures
I'm also working with my colleagues to address the needs of workers exposed to harmful substances
while on the job. I'm going to hold a hearing on how we can better help our nuclear workers who
deserve compensation. I'm fighting to protect workers from deadly asbestos. After a six-year, uphill
battle, my bill to ban asbestos recently passed a key Senate committee and is on its way to the Senate
floor. And I'm continuing the fight to improve mine safety. As we all know, last night the tragedy in
Utah got even worse when three rescue workers were killed and six others were injured. Those
tragedies show that we've got a lot of work to do to protect America's miners.
As we protect our workers, we also must respect our veterans. I know many of you in this room have
proudly served our country. We need to make sure every veteran has the opportunity to thrive in the
civilian workforce when they return home. Your "Helmets to Hardhats" program is certainly another
example of labor's ongoing commitment to our nation’s veterans. We must all raise our level of effort
to securing better healthcare and employment opportunities for returning veterans.
I was proud to re-introduce an amendment to the Family and Medical Leave Act this year that would
expand coverage to the dependents and spouses of our military men and women -- who are so often
called upon to sacrifice while their family member is deployed.
I'm so pleased that the Senate took action last month and passed the Dignified Treatment of Wounded
Warriors Act, providing real solutions that meet the needs of our troops and veterans from the
battlefield to the VA and everywhere in between. This bill finally recognizes veterans as a cost of this
war and reverses the administration's policy of neglect towards our nation’s wounded heroes.
We've Got Work To Do
So friends, we've got a lot of work to do. We've got to makes sure that American workers can stand
together. We've got to make sure we invest in our workers and our infrastructure. And we've got to
protect our workers and respect our veterans.
Those are some of the key questions of this historic year, and now it falls to us to make sure our
country answers those questions correctly. It means working hard – but I know this group never shied
away from hard work. It means electing a Congress and a new president, who will truly be champions
for working families. And it means standing together so we can be stronger.
Together we can help our country make the right choices today, so that 50 years from now – at a
WSLC Convention like this one – they will say that in the early years of the century – when working
families were attacked – we stood up for them and helped America win.