White House Forum Commemorating Women’s History Month

Ladies and gentlemen, once again, good morning and welcome
to the White House. Please direct your attention to
the screen at the front of the auditorium. Here is a portion of the
currently-running HBO documetary “Triangle, Remember the Fire.” Narrator:
The Triangle Factory was in one of the city’s newest skyscrapers just off of Washington Square Park on the top three floors of the Ash Building. Up until this point, the garment
industry had been spread out in tenement buildings
throughout the city. Now companies could crowd
hundreds of workers together under one roof in huge loft
spaces with powerful machines. For the first time, women
were wearing shirtwaists, separate tops, like men. Isaac Harrison, Max Blank, the
owners of the Triangle Waist Company, were known as the
shirtwaist kings and made millions from this
new fashion trend. The International Ladies Garment
Factory Union, the ILGWU, began to organize garment
workers across the city. Triangle was one of the largest
factories which made it a focal point of union activity. In September of 1909, the strike
started at the factory which soon spread across the city. The general strike of 1909
became known as “The Uprising of
the 20,000.” It was the first large strike of
women in this country and at a time when they still
didn’t have the vote. The participants were mainly
young immigrant girls, many of whom didn’t
even speak English. Some owners gave
in to the union, but with the help
of city government, Blank and Harris were able to
weather the strike at Triangle. The workers eventually returned to the
factory without union recognition. It was back to business as usual
until the day of the fire. On a Saturday afternoon
in late March, 500 workers filed into
the triangle factory. Most of them had already
put in a 60-hour workweek. No one was prepared for
what was about to happen. The fire broke out on the 8th
floor at about 4:40 in the afternoon, just as people were
finishing up for the day. Investigators believe it was
started by a discarded cigarette. Highly flammable stacks of
fabric and paper patterns caused the fire to spread
quickly across the floor. The workers panicked and started
running for the exits all at once. They had never had fire drills. There was no plan. Nobody knew what to do. The fire brought
everybody together. There was such overwhelming
sadness and guilt, that scene of those women
just wouldn’t go away. And something had
to change or die. Al Smith and Robert Wagner set up the
Factory Investigating Commission. They brought on board many of
the leading reformers of the day. Francis Perkins, who would
become the first woman Secretary of Labor was on the Commission. She happened to be in Washington
Square Park the day of the fire and witnessed the young women
jumping out of the windows. She would go on to say that “The
New Deal” started March 25th, 1911. Also asked to participate
were Rose Schneiderman, the legendary union
activist, and Clara Lemlich, the catalyst of the
shirtwaist uprising. The Commission’s findings led
to the enactment of laws in New York that mandated safety
standards, minimum wage, support for people when they
lose their jobs and assistance when they are too old to work. What started in New York, paved
the way for FDR’s New Deal. The legislation that came out of
the Triangle fire kind of evened the scales a little bit. It gave working people some
support from the government so they could organize unions. They could fight. That was a huge turning
point for labor. Through the unions they weren’t
just yids and honkys and wops any more. They were American workers. They had something. You know, they could be part of
this country in a way that they couldn’t be before. (applause) Speaker:
Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome U.S. Secretary of Labor, Hilda L. Solis. (applause) Secretary Solis:
Thank you. Good morning. Buenos dias. And a special hello to
my hermanas, my friends. My girl friends. Our friends, our family. And welcome to the White House. This is a very exciting day for
many of us and I’m delighted that all of you could join us
here for this historic event. I want to begin by thanking
the White House for graciously hosting us here this morning
and I’d like to recognize a few people here with us who are
doing so much on our behalf of working people
across this country. And if they would please
stand and be acknowledged. Arlene Holt Baker, Executive
Vice President AFL-CIO. (applause) Liz Shuler, Secretary
Treasurer, AFL-CIO. (applause) Chris Neff, International
Vice President, UFCW. (applause) Sarita Gupta,
Jobs with Justice. (applause) Kim Freeman Brown,
America Rights at Work. (applause) Ai-jen Poo, Domestic Workers. (applause) And one of our
trailblazing women in Congress, Congresswoman Liz
Woolsly, from California. (applause) And a big thank you
to those from the faith-based community here today who do so
much to support workers’ rights and economic justice. I’d also like to recognize
Daphne Pinkerson, the producer of the moving HBO
documentary from which we just saw a brief piece. Please stand and be
recognized, Daphne. (applause) Daphne, your film is helping
to shed an important light on the Triangle Shirtwaist
Factory fire and the many who sacrificed then and today
to improve conditions for working Americans. In fact, I was just in New York
this last Friday to commemorate the event, the 100th Anniversary
on the steps a short walk away from the factory. And believe me, it was very,
very moving to be there and to meet the families and relatives
of some of these women who gave their life working hard, trying
to organize and are a symbol of freedom for so many of us. And I can say with great
confidence that your film truly captures that spirit. So thank you again, Daphne, for
bringing this crucial part of our American history to
the television screens. And, of course, most of all
I want to thank all of you, the courageous women and few
brave men who have joined us here today in our audience. We’re here at the White House to
honor the lives of the Triangle garment workers, to remember the
high price they paid for the workplace protections that we
now have and to help underscore their legacy as it lives on in
the work of today’s women and their collective action. A century later we reflect not
only on the loss of 146 lives that tragic afternoon, but also
the movement they inspired and the commitment of those who
carry on their call for reform and justice. The Triangle Factory fire taught
us that we must protect the most vulnerable among us. That we must provide safeguards
and a safety net for all workers and that we must ensure that
every person has a voice at their job. Today, we celebrate these
lessons and we focus on the unique role that women have in
organizing to create real change in their communities
and neighborhoods. The workers at Triangle want the
same rights that many workers still struggle for today. And like workers today in the
face of greatly — of great adversity, the women of Triangle
stood up and fought for those rights. They fought for fair wages. For safe workplaces. And for better
working conditions. Together they tried
to also form a union. They understood, like we
do, that when workers have a voice their working
conditions are better. Their work places are safer and
their families are more secure. And although their efforts were
halted abruptly they inspired our country for
generations to come. In 2011, we move forward
stronger because of them. We know that their voices and
their spirits live on in the actions and commitment of
countless women who continue to fight for the same rights
and for justice for all across this great nation. And in just a few minutes we’re
going to hear from some of those courageous women from all
walks of life who traveled from everywhere in the
country to be with us today. They will tell us their stories
and invite us into their struggles. We will hear how each of them is
organizing to make a difference in their workplaces, in the
lives of their families, and in their communities. But before we hear them, I’d
like to introduce another amazing woman, one chosen by
our President to serve in this Administration because she
shares her heart-felt belief that working people deserve
a voice and have a rightful place in this country. A tireless advocate for
America’s working families and for women everywhere. She serves as Senior Advisor and
Assistant to President Barack Obama. In her role she chairs the White
House Council On Women and Girls and oversees the White House
Office of Intergovernmental Affairs and the office
of Public Engagement. She is truly a champion
of justice and I feel so fortunate to call her a friend. My amiga. Please join me in welcoming
Ms. Valerie Jarrett. (applause) Valerie Jarrett:
Thank you, thank you. Thank you. Please, please have a seat. Thank you so much. Thank you, Hilda, for that
wonderful introduction, Congresswoman, you really bless
us by your presence here today. We know how busy you are and it
means so much to have your support. To all of you, my goodness, what
a terrific way to start a Monday morning with, as Hilda said, all
these amazing women and these few very brave men, we’re glad
to have you as well as we kick off this very important day. I want to begin by thanking
Secretary Solis for her incredible leadership in the
Department of Labor and for organizing this wonderful event. Please, another round
of applause for Hilda. (applause) As we mark both
women’s history month and the hundredth anniversary of the
Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, we felt it was important
here at the White House working with the Department of Labor to
host this event and to hear the stories of the women who
we are just thrilled to have you join us today. The Triangle fire resonates with
us all a hundred years later and that film was extraordinary. Not only because of the
magnitude of the tragedy but also because it galvanized a
movement for women to stand up and demand better working
conditions, safer workplaces, and the right to have each
of their voices heard. And it serves as a reminder that
so many of the benefits and the rights that we enjoy today have
been because of the sacrifices and the hard work and the
commitment of both men and women who came before us. And even as there are some who
question the role of unions in our country today, we know
that all working families have benefited and continue
to benefit from the fights organized labor waged for
safe, humane conditions, the minimum wage, health care
and many other women’s rights. Don’t you agree? (applause) When the President took office,
he said “I don’t view the labor movement as a
part of the problem. To me, it’s a part
of the solution. Because we know that you
cannot have a strong middle class without a strong
labor movement.” And every day, in ways big
and small, those are the principles that the President,
that the Secretary, that our Administration has
lived by ensuring a safe workplace, balancing
the playing field for working families, appointing
leaders who recognize and appreciate the rights of workers
to organize and collective bargain, building an economy
that can create and sustain good jobs and recognizing that
working people are our partners in our efforts to get the
country back on a solid economic footing. As we commemorate this
anniversary on Women’s History Month, we should reflect on the
remarkable courage standing up for their rights that
so many women have done. Their continued fight has
made a huge difference. Women now make up
half the workforce. Two-thirds of all working
families have a single woman heading the household or
two heads of household. And their paychecks are so
critical to the families, particularly in these
economically challenging times. So as Chair of the White House
Council On Women and Girls, I’ve had an opportunity to hear
stories from women all over our country, from all walks of life,
each working hard bit by bit to make a difference for change,
positive change to improve the quality of lives for
people around our country. And so I respect and I
appreciate the courage of the women whose stories you’re
about to hear today and their commitment and hard work
for everyone in this room. And we appreciate, we deeply
appreciate your experience. And so now, without
any further ado, Hilda and I are going to get
started and we’re going to hear some stories and then
have a conversation. Thank you again. (applause) Secretary Solis:
Thank you, Valerie. We’re going to begin,
I’m going to introduce our first speaker here. This is Deanna Vizi who is a
child care provider in Ohio, she is a member of AFSME,
child care workers in her home state were recently granted
collective bargaining rights under Governor Strickland. Though those rights are now
in jeopardy as a result of legislation that is currently
pending in that State Legislature because of
a new governor there. Deana will talk to us a little
bit about her life and working conditions and talk
about the action, collective action that is going
on there and in your profession. If we could just begin to please
tell us a little bit about yourself and what it means to be
a child care worker and how long you’ve worked at it. And also why you decided
to become an organizer. Deanna? Deanna Vizi:
Okay, my name is Deana and I’m a child care provider from Ohio. I love what I do. I think that working moms
everywhere are more productive, they’re less stressed when they
know that their child is well taken care of and well loved. I don’t see any other job more
important to a working mom. She can’t bring home that
paycheck without that. (applause) So with that being said, what does being a child
care provider mean? Well, I’ll tell you, if you want
to make a child care provider angry, just call
us a baby-sitter. (laughter) So a baby-sitter is a teenager who comes to your house, eats your food,
talks on your phone, gets on your Internet, you
know, maybe takes a nap. So that’s not what we do. So when two women came to my
home about two years ago and said that we were getting a
group together to organize, I was ecstatic. I came from a union home. My dad is a retired
sprinkler fitter. My mother was a nuclear security
officer at a nuclear power plant. She was very active
in her union. So I know what the union
can do for working families. If it wouldn’t be for the union,
my family would not have been so lucky growing up. So that’s for the union. (applause) And one of the things
that we faced as child care providers is you get
your certification, they come in your
home, they inspect you, they ask you to do all
these things, you do, they give you this big old
book of rules, here you go, take care of these children, follow
these rules and you’ll be all good. Unfortunately, the people
who make the rules, there were no child care
providers involved in making these rules. So you may have people making
these rules who maybe don’t have children, maybe they don’t even
know any children — (laughter) — so they are
kind of impractical. So one of the first things we
discussed when we wanted to get the union going is, you
know, we can get a voice. And as an individual,
I have a voice. But as a group, we
have a louder voice. So better heard. So we got a petition
and we signed, we went all around to child
care providers all over Ohio, we got them to sign a petition,
we took it to the governor, he granted us some bargaining
power and we got on committees and we bargained for our first
contract which was exciting. Another thing in child care is we
provide care for subsidized families. Those are families who work
and they receive help from the government paying for
their day care bill. So the way that works is
we make out an invoice, we send it on to the county,
and it gets approved, and then some time
you get your check. For me in my county
I was very lucky. I have a great, I have a
great staff at my county, they’re very efficient. They’re just wonderful. Some of the other counties of
the ladies that I worked with, some of them were not getting
their paycheck for 90 days. Now, I don’t know one person who
would accept a position with a company where they said
we’ll pay you in 90 days. So we got our bargaining power. We got our contract. And now the state of Ohio has
did a statewide payment system so everyone sends their
invoices in at the same time. They are processed, it’s
all done on the computer, everyone can look and see
when they’re processed, where the process is,
if it has been received, when it’s being paid. And it’s directly deposited
into to our bank account. So that is one of the most
important things that we received payment for
these poor, poor ladies. When you are living paycheck
to paycheck, 90 days, that’s a long time to go. So another thing we received was
we received the opportunity to get health care insurance. As you can imagine being a lot
of child care providers are single women with children of
their own and as you can imagine not very affordable health care. So we were able to receive that
as a part of our benefit package. So the union has
worked wonders for us. And I tell you, I have
faith, I have faith in God, I have faith in this country,
I have faith in the democratic process, and I have faith that
collective bargaining is going to go on, my sisters
and I in Ohio are going to keep on fightin’. Thank you. (applause) Valerie Jarrett:
What a terrific story. Thank you so much. I now have the pleasure of
introducing to you Allison Julien. Allison is a domestic
worker from New York. She is originally for Barbados. She spent the last two decades
as a nanny and the last nine years as a member of the
Domestic Workers United. So thank you for joining us. Allison became an organizer in
2002 and is very proud of her continued efforts to unite
workers in the fight for fair labor standards. We really appreciate your being
here with us today, Allison. And I want to start by saying
first if you’d share with us your story, what you’ve learned
over the last 20 years as a domestic worker and what it is
that people don’t know about workers such as
you in your work. And what did you help to achieve
when you joined your union and became so active in
the organization? Allison Julien:
Thanks for having me. Again, I am from Barbados and I grew
up taking care of my nieces and nephews. So for me the love of kids in my
life was something I was always surrounded by. When I came to this country I
got involved in taking care of kids, being a nanny, and it was
the most gratifying feeling ever. To this day it is
still that feeling. I leave work gratified
knowing my kids are happy. And I call them my kids. I’m with them for
ten hours a day. They become my kids. I leave them happy. They’re smiling. They’re well taken care of. And our day is filled with fun. That’s like Deanna was saying
that’s the responsibility of us as nannies, as child
care providers, is to make kids happy
when they’re in our care. As a domestic worker,
and we are nannies, house keepers and elderly care
givers, we give to families. We come into your homes, we take
care of your elderly parents, we take care of your kids,
we take care of your home. We clean your home. And that’s the most
rewarding work there is. We began organizing domestic
workers and how I got involved is my mother and my grandmother
were also domestic workers, hearing their stories, realizing
doing this work my stories became their stories and
they didn’t have the voice. They didn’t have the power
to stand up to make change. They probably didn’t
even know where to go. And hearing, upon hearing about
Domestic Workers United in 2002, I immediately knew that
this was where I had to be. To be a voice not
only for myself, but in honoring my mother and my
grandmother who had done this work for many years, I
wanted to be that voice, to speak out for them. This is a work that’s
not going away. Domestic work is not
going away any time soon. This work has been around for
decades and it’s going to be around for decades to come. And organizationally, we
realized that we could not continue working
under exclusions. We were specifically excluded
from major labor laws within this country and we knew as
workers we had to do something. So in 2003 we started organizing
a campaign for the Bill of Rights for Domestic Workers
because so many workers like myself faced terrible
working conditions. We were fired without
notice, without pay. We couldn’t take sick days off
without being either fired or not being paid for
these sick days. And like we take care of
the kids, of our family, we also have our families
as well that depends on us, and if we’re not being paid and
if we’re not being treated well, these are the stresses and the
problems that we then in turn take home to our families. So after organizing domestic
workers in New York City for six and a half years we lobbied
openly and last fall in November of last year we were successful
in achieving the first ever domestic worker Bill of
Rights in this country. (applause) And it just goes to show
the importance of not one voice but many voices. We can do this. Domestic workers are mainly
immigrant women of color and we’ve been told that
we couldn’t do it. We’ve been told that we didn’t
have a place to do this and we proved legislatures wrong. This work was done before by
African-Americans and it wasn’t no protection for them. And we as immigrant women, like
our sisters in the Triangle fire, we wanted to make it known
that we as workers, we as women, we have a voice and we
refuse to be silenced. (applause) Valerie Jarrett:
Ernestine Basset is a Wal-Mart associate from Laurel, Maryland. And she works for one of the
largest retail giants now for the past four years. She’s committed to bringing a
collective voice for workers at that particular location. She’s a retired technician from
Verizon where she was a member of CWA. I know we had spoke a little bit,
you said you weren’t active with CWA at the time but now things
have changed in your place of employment and I think people
want to hear basically what your view is on that and how you’re
feeling and what are we going to do? Ernestine Basset:
Hi, I’m Ernestine, I work at Wal-Mart in Maryland. And the first thing I want to say
is that history does repeat itself. The factory fire in New York
occurred or the loss of 146 lives occurred because
the doors were locked. Well, as recently as
ten, maybe 12 years, Wal-Mart was doing
the same thing, they were locking the
doors on their workers. Luckily there was never fires,
but they were actually locking the doors on their workers. I came to Wal-Mart
four years ago, saw a big difference between
this non-union company and Verizon. It’s a company, it’s
like night and day. No respect. They treat you like
a moron basically. I love my job, I really do. It’s somewhat physical,
but I love the customers. When people have a need to
speak out, to talk to someone, whether it’s good things or bad
things, and I am that face, they will come in and just
spill their lives to me. I do not know their names — (laughter) — but they will come back and start calling me Ernestine. They see my name tag. They remember that. Hi, Ernestine. How you doing? That makes me feel well. I feel that I have connected
with these people. That’s a great feeling. I love my co-workers;
we’re like family. We are like family. We really are. Sometimes we spend more time
together than we do with our actual families. And it’s great. Wal-Mart is a billion
dollar company. The biggest employer
in the country, but they pay very small wages. They do not pay living wages. There are so many workers at the
store in Laurel who depend on the government for housing,
section 8, food stamps, because Wal-Mart do
not pay living wages. So about a year, year and
a half, I got involved. And I’m so glad I did. I really feel that I
have a support there. I retired from the
telephone company in ’99. I had to go back to work because
of the economic downturn. Wal-Mart was there. Gave me a job,
which I’m grateful, but something needs to be done. They are taking advantage
of a lot of people. It needs to end. And so started organizing. And things are going good. We have come a
long way in a year. More people are speaking up. Seeing that things
are not right. We all are in this together
trying to make a difference. Valerie Jarrett:
Thank you, Ernestine. (applause) Now I have the pleasure of introducing to you Liliana Becker. Liliana is as bilingual
customer service representative with more than eight
years of experience. She came to the United States 14
years ago and works for a major telecommunications firm at
the company’s Fort Lauderdale office in Florida. For the past year and a half
Liliana has been working with the Communication Workers of
America to ensure that workers at her company are
treated fairly. Liliana speaks four languages,
is a mother to a ten-year-old son and supports
her elderly parents. So Liliana, I would just like
to begin by asking you what you hoped to achieve when you came
to the United States and when you started working for
your current employer. And some people today often
argue that unions undercut the ability of business to compete
and I’d like you to share your thoughts on that
subject with us. Liliana Becker:
Sure, thank you. Good morning. You have no idea how
proud I feel to be here. Thank you, very much,
for the opportunity. I work for T-Mobile Company here
as a regular customer service. In my position, well,
I came from Peru. And I have to be in front of a
monitor with a headset ten hours a day, four days in a row. That’s my shift. It’s a lucky shift that I got. And I been a year and a half
counting with the support with people from CWA, telling
me that, you know, we can make a difference. We can make the
things working good. At the beginning when
I started on T-Mobile, I was so excited about the
values because it was posted everywhere I’m
T-Mobile, count on me, we are concerned about people,
we care about our persons, so I said, Wow! This is
the place I want to be, not only because I’m coming from
a country that is poor and I was making an okay salary but here
I’m going to make a good salary and I’m also going to be
recognized as a person, too. Turns out that it’s not
that way, unfortunately. (laughter) I do that to my customers, to
every single customer I have to do a work class experience and
my commitment is to do that because I have a kid and I have
to live by example, you know, if I do it good and my
kid has to do it, too. So I got the concern, I got the
concern about the people and treat them right and recognize
that they are such a loyal customer for having
ten years with us. And I said, thank
you, Mr. Customer. And the customer says, Wow! Thank you for making so
personalize this treatment. Thank you, very much, Lily,
I know you make me feel so comfortable and important. No, you deserve that. But when I turn my back
to my boss, and I said, may I have permission, because
I have to do my citizenship and it’s on one of those days that
you have blocked the day, can I get this day off? Sorry, there is
nothing we can do. We have to do it today. You have to be absent. But I’m so glad that you’re
becoming a resident and you’re going to be a citizen already. So, you know, things like that. And things like see some things,
to me, that don’t work well when I try to do my best experience
to the customer and I said, boss, this is not working good. This system is no good. And I asked them,
my co-workers, hey, do you consider this is okay? No. Do you tell that to our coach? Yes. Well, what she says? Well, tough luck, we have
to continue doing it. You know, but this is
not the right thing. This is not what
the customer wants. Why don’t we do this instead. Can you please, you know, tell
that and escalate this idea to someone else? And they said, no,
Liliana, we cannot do that. If we complain too much, they
can take the product overseas to Costa Rica, to Puerto
Rico, to another country, to Panama and we’re
going to lose our jobs. I don’t want to lose my job. I came to America to become
my dream, country, you know. But now I don’t have voice. The only voice I have is when I
talk to the customer and I wow the customer, but at work,
there is no wow there. So I found this lady
from CWA giving fliers, and the security says don’t grab
the flier because, you know — (laughter) — these are people that are
trying to close the job. So secretly, you know,
with caller ID block, I called this lady
and I told her — (laughter and applause) — first of all, I won’t
tell you my name, okay? But tell me this: Are you
planning to take this overseas? Because I came to America
and I am making decent money. I don’t want this to close. But I have got these ideas and
they never want to hear those. And they say, no, no, of course
we don’t want to close it, Liliana, and we are like
becoming like friends, you know. And I feel relief. I feel like my ideas
are not bad at all. You know? So I share with another friends
and coworkers there and we have something in common. We want to do the best possible. We want to do, make
more profitable. We want T-Mobile to
succeed, go beyond. Now we belong to AT&T which is
kind of a relief in a certain way. And we expect to have the junior
now because we want more salary. We are good workers. We do a quality service,
but aside from that money, we want that recognition. We want that, you know,
gain our respect back. We want to feel that
we are persons again. And our ideas can be heard. And believe me, we want
to make the company grow. We want to stay in
the United States. We don’t want to
close our call center. We want protection. If we feel sick and we don’t
have voice we want that time to say yes, you are sick, go ahead,
go home, we will put a segment, we will work with your
hours and things like that. Now we are not
allowed to be sick. Now we are not allowed to have
certain days on vacation. We are not recognition by
people who give their life, they work ten years with
me, and they don’t have that appreciation for the
company enough, you know? If you leave there and you spend
those many years at least, as a T-Mobile boss, you can
say here Lisa, here Mary, we appreciate what you did. As we do as a customer. We recognize that customer,
thank you, Mr. Customer, for being with T-Mobile. We want that thank you
employee for being with me. I know that you see here and I
want you to feel that this is your home. I don’t want the
day-by-day work. I want to be proud. I want to be happy
to stay there. So that way everything
is going to be better. That’s how I see, you know. And that’s why we are joining
together secretly in my apartment because we don’t
want to go to public places. (laughter and applause) Secretary Solis:
Thank you, Liliana. (applause) I think you may have
another job out there. Because you’re
doing well up here. (laughter) Lilliana Becker:
Thank you. Secretary Solis:
But I know time is of the
essence right now and Valerie has to leave. Valerie Jarrett who stayed here to
hear your stories in particular. It was so important for her to have
you tell your story so she could hear. And I know that
she appreciates it. And we appreciate it for being
here and being our strong voice and leader on women and girls’
issues and everything she does here on behalf of our President. And we want to thank her. So please stand; give
her a round of applause. Valerie, thank you. (applause) Valerie Jarrett:
Thank you, thank you so much. We really appreciate
you being here. It’s a pleasure. Thank you so much. Thank you. Thank you all very much. Really, this standing ovation
goes to these terrific women who really came and
shared their stories. (applause) We could, we could feel your
heart and your passion and your love for what you do and
your dedication to make your employer strong. And so your message is really
one that resonates with all of us. So I apologize for having to
scoot, but thank you again, everyone, for being here. And now I’ll turn it over to
Hilda for the rest of the program. Thank you. (applause) Secretary Solis:
So we’re going to go for
a second round here and, please, if people need water,
I know it gets, it’s a little warm up here. Deanna, I wanted to ask
you in this question here, what advice would you give to
women across the country who are maybe watching us right now at
this moment who are feeling alone and helpless and worried
about their work situation just like I’m sure you are and
possibly also what’s the next step now with respect to your
job security because of what the legislation, the new
legislation that will now take away the ability for
you to have protections at collective bargaining. So if you could help
us understand that, that would be great. Deanna Vizi:
Well, first off, I would
tell them don’t be afraid, don’t be afraid to get involved. Don’t be afraid to pick up that
phone and make a phone call and ask no matter what your
job is there is a union out there to help you. I don’t care what it is. (applause) It only takes one person
to make one phone call. And believe me, thousands
of people will follow. It happened in Ohio
I’m here to tell you. So they could just — that’s all
they have to do, just seek out, make a phone call and keep making phone calls until you get an answer. And don’t be afraid. Don’t feel like you’re alone. You are never alone. There are women all over
this country who are there to support you. So they should never feel alone. And right now in Ohio
it is terrifying for us. It is very, very scary. For my sisters and
brothers in Wisconsin, scared for them as well. But as I said I have faith and I
have faith that we’re gonna keep on fightin’, we’re
not giving up. We are not giving up. (applause) Secretary Solis:
What are some of the plans that
are taking place on the ground? Deanna Beezy:
Well, right now in Ohio,
we have already passed, our legislatures have passed a
bill that is going on for a full vote in the Senate. It just passed a
committee vote right now. We are protesting. We are lobbying the
people who will be voting, and we are telling them
that they need to vote no! We need our collective bargaining. We need it, everyone needs it. And I really, truly, I have
faith in this democratic process that we’re going to fight
and we’re going to win! (applause) Secretary Solis:
Deanna, you mentioned something to me before we came in about your mother. Share that with
us, if you would. Deanna Vizi:
My mom was the first female police officer in our county. (applause) So she pretty much
infiltrated the good ol’ boys network what is she did. (laughter) Before I became a
child care provider, I was a security
manager in a mall. Eighty two malls
across the country. Not one female security manager. Guess what? Right here! Infiltrated the good
ol’ boys network there. So I did that with
the support of my mom. And she became a nuclear
security officer. She worked at a
nuclear power plant. She was very, very involved
in the union there. They worked sometimes 12
days — 12 hours a day, seven days a week. The benefits that they received
throughout their many, many, many bargaining
activities were, you know, company paid for shoes, coats
for them to wear outside, just, I mean, many health
benefits, many, just, the benefits were phenomenal. That was a really,
really, tough, tough job. And my mom was my best friend
and she was my role model. And one of the last things that
my mom got to do when she was sick and she was under hospice
care is she got a visit from her brothers and her sisters in her
union and she made it to the age of 59 and a half and she
received her retirement gift from those union
brothers and sisters. They are there from the
beginning to the end. And that is what the union does. (applause) Secretary Solis:
Thank you. Okay. Allison, I have a
question for you. You talked about the isolation
in your particular workplace. And I could understand that. But share with us a little bit
more about what that means when the door closes, the employer
leaves, what happens, and how does that really feel to
be able to find that there are other people now outside that
you have been able to work with to help look at how you
organize this kind of work? Because it seems so difficult that
maybe you could share that with us. Allison Julie:
And that’s absolutely right. We work in a workplace where we
work two employers to one employee. That alone is a
challenge for many of us. Like I mentioned earlier, we are
excluded from labor laws so it’s really myself and my employers. Who do I go to to bargain? Who do I go to to ask for time
off or to bargain that time off with but my employers? And it’s really hard. It’s very hard. Because the challenges many
times and there are two different kinds of
domestic workers. There is the domestic worker who does
the ten or 12 hour day and goes home. Then there is the domestic
worker who lives in the employer’s home. They are at complete
mercy of the employers. They are there before sunup
and well after sunset. There is no time for breaks. There is no time
for a lunch hour. Many of us work under
long conditions. We can do a ten
or 12 hour shift. We don’t have anybody
to say, hold the baby, I’m going for a break. Or hold the baby,
I’m going for lunch. We are there for those ten
straight hours without breaks, without lunch. When we’re sick, many of us have
to be on the job because if we’re not we’re not
compensated for the day lost. Many of us are parents. We don’t go to work because we
have to stay home with our sick kids or because we have
PTA meetings to attend. We don’t get
compensated for that. There are good employers out
there who want to do the right thing, but there are no
guidelines out there for these employers to follow. And that’s our ask; is for
legislatures to recognize that employers need guidelines to
follow so that we the workers could feel protected, so that
we the workers know what our responsibilities are. This is a partnership between
the employer and the employee. And if the employers don’t know
and the employees don’t know, this is just making conditions
ripe for exploitation, for abuse, for oppression, and
these are all the things that goes on within this industry. We work in the
shadows of slavery. If we don’t tell the stories,
nobody else will tell our stories. Many of us, some of us, and
there are stories of women within the organization who
have been beaten on the job, who have been raped on the job,
who have been forced to sleep on the floor without
blankets, without pillows. Think about that for a second. This is work. Your home becomes our workplace. And it’s not fair for any worker to
have to work under those conditions. And with Domestic Workers United
being there as that voice for many domestic workers
we have somewhere to go. We’re not trying to get
rich doing this job. All we’re asking for is
basic labor protections. We’re human beings and we want
to be treated like human beings. We want to be recognized
like real workers. We want to be protected
like real workers. The work we do matters. The work I do matters. I am happy at the end of the
day to know my kids are happy. And there are so many of us
across this country that go home happy knowing that we did a job
well done but at the same time we’re so broken-hearted because
there is no protection there for us because there
is nowhere to turn. And labor laws in this country
need to change and we women have started doing that. We women are the voice, we are
the ones who can tell the story because we are the
ones who do the work. We are the ones who suffer in this
industry without any protection. And our voice as an organization
is to continue to let workers know we started the
National Domestic Worker Alliance three years ago. And we are now in the process,
there are over 2.5 million domestic workers
in this country. Again we are America’s
best kept secret. (laughter) And we are here today to say
this secret is no longer a secret. We’re opening the doors — (applause) — we’re opening the
doors and pulling the shutters back and showing
you the face behind the work. We’re showing you we’re the ones
who make all other work possible. It’s because the domestic worker
comes into your home to care for your home, your
family and your kids, that you can go out
and make a living. This works both ways. We give to you and all we’re
asking is that you give back to us. Because what we do it’s
the most important, it’s the most important work and
we just want for workers to know that there is a place to turn. California is getting ready to
launch their Bill of Rights this week. Massachusetts and Illinois is
also getting ready to launch a Bill of Rights. And it doesn’t stop there. We’ve got at whole lot of states
in this country that we have to conquer and we’ve got
labor laws to change. (applause) Secretary Solis:
Good. Thank you.
Thank you so much. Ernestine, you mentioned that
you worked with Verizon and you were a part of the union there. And now you’re working at a
different place of employment where there is no union. How are the challenges? What are those challenges
like right now? How are you being treated by
management and other co-workers that may not even know
what a union really is? Ernestine Bassett
Well, the company itself have
people come in from Arkansas to hold antiunion meetings — I’m
sorry — Wal-Mart sends people to various stores to
have anti-union meetings. It’s very intimidating. They show videos. They tell lies. They try to convince people that the
union is not a good thing to have. That it will destroy business. And that the people involved
with organizing are just disgruntled employees,
which is not the case. Like I said, I love my job. I love Wal-Mart. I think they’re a great
company to an extent. (laughter) But it’s challenging. It really is. You have your co-workers who
don’t believe in what you’re doing so it’s an uphill battle
trying to convince them otherwise many of them. Then you have some who are very
much familiar with unions. Some of the workers there have
other jobs, other union jobs. But for some reason they’re not
convinced that Wal-Mart should be unionized. I don’t really know why. So it’s an uphill battle. And the anti-union meetings
that they have do not help. People are afraid. No one wants to lose their job. They don’t seem to understand
that we are protected by labor laws, unfortunately, though
we’re trying to put that out, but a lot of them just do not
believe and they are really afraid of losing their jobs. Secretary Solis:
But what — thank you
for that — but one of the things that we talked about,
I think earlier, was the fact, and you kind of mentioned this,
how it did feel to have a union and, you know, what
that felt like. I mean, now that you’re at a
place that you don’t have one. Ernestine Bassett:
It’s a good thing. It’s a good thing. Like what has been said before
me, it does improve your life. It improves your family
life tremendously. You are protected. You have better salaries. You have better health care. You have better everything. You are protected. There is safety in numbers. There is safety in numbers. And you are protected. It’s like night and
day, it really is. Secretary Solis:
So what message would you give
to those people who are watching you right now maybe
at a Wal-Mart store? (laughter) Ernestine:
Well, believe. Believe that it can happen. Believe that things can improve. Your life, your work
life can be better. Believe, that’s what
I want them to know. (applause) Just believe! Secretary Solis:
Thank you. Thank you. Liliana, you shared quite
a bit with us and one of the things I wanted to ask
you is what — how much do you make an hour? Because I understand you have
been working there for four years with this company — Liliana Becker:
Yeah. Secretary Solis:
And what kind of
raises have you received? Tell us a little bit about that. Liliana Becker:
Well, that’s a complicated
question to answer because I didn’t understand
myself nowadays. I start with 15.35,
something like that, and it’s three years and a
half almost and I’m doing 15.76, okay. Again — Secretary Solis:
Fifty cents? Liliana Becker:
Fifty cents, yeah. However, you know, I’m not
complaining about the money. I’m blessed with the
job and, you know, compared to other positions,
I’m making decent money. With this money, I support my
kid and my parents because they are 70 years old so
it’s enough for us. But when I was in Peru working,
my opinion was listening. They were treating
me as a person, now I’m making the money, I’m
doing the American dream but at the same time I lost my voice. I lost my chance to have
an opinion, to say, hey, what about if we change this
promotion for this promotion? Because I know my customer,
they are going to tell you that this is better. I cannot have an opinion. And we are a fear. Our common, you know, with my
friend from Richmond that I just recently met, it is that we are
afraid to say something because they take it wrong. They think that
we’re troublemakers. We don’t want that. And the country, we want
T-Mobile to succeed and to make more money because if you are
a good boss I am going to be better because I’m going to feel
secure that I’m not coming in one day and knowing that my call
center is going to be closed. I want that. I know that there is not job
security totally, you know, but if I guarantee you that I’m
bringing more customers with my way to offer and with the
promotions I’m giving, I will feel the confidence
that I won’t lose my job. I don’t want to lose my job. Secretary Solis:
Liliana, you were —
my understanding of it, trying to organize a union. Liliana Becker:
Yes. Secretary Solis:
Do you think that’s going
to be helpful and how is that going to help the
business, do you think? Liliana Becker:
It’s going to help because
by myself, I already try. I talk to my coach, I talk
to the boss of my boss, and I went to H.R.
well and they say, oh, that’s very interesting
but, you know, we have to follow the policies. And I said, oh, let’s go
the two of us and we did the same approach. So it doesn’t work. It’s not working. And because we became too noisy,
my boss came and said, you know, you are a very good worker, but we
have to keep it quiet, Liliana. We have to, you know, do the
things that we’re supposed to do. Let them, you know, the big ones
who went to college and have their degrees to think for us. And I said, but we
have good ideas, man, we cannot lose that opportunity. So for not losing the raise of
our jobs we decide with this woman and CWA to do
meetings in hotel lobbies, and it didn’t work. So to make them feel comfortable
now we are having secret meetings in my
apartment, you know? (laughter) And they feel more
comfortable because they don’t feel that they are going to
public places where they can take pictures or they
are coming to, you know, put in rates depositions? Because, it’s very hard to get a
job nowadays so we don’t want to lose them. But at the same time we have
good opinions that may work or even if it doesn’t, you know, at
least give us that respect that we are giving to every single
customer that we handle. Secretary Solis:
Right. Thank you. That was great. (applause) Ernestine Bassett:
I would like the audience
here to know that Wal-Mart, this billion dollar company,
I been there four years, they pay me $10.70 an hour. Secretary Solis:
Well, I would say to
all of you brave women that are here with
us, listening to us, that the stories that you’ve
heard here are just, I think, a microcosm of what is happening
around or country and it’s important for you to know that
you are being supported and that you come to us
with great courage. And many of you here in the room
and here on the podium have already exhibited great courage
and courage is something we don’t always talk about,
I think, as women, valor, and you said that you want
dignity and respect and that to me is so important. And I know it’s important for this
Administration and for all workers. So you represent the voices of
so many and we’re just so happy that you came and shared
your time, your struggles, your challenges, your
hopes and your dreams, and that’s what makes
our country so great. So I personally want to thank
you and I think all of us here want to thank you. (applause) Deanna, Ernestine,
Allison and Liliana, we all want to thank you
for joining us today, for sharing your stories. And most of all, for your
commitment to helping others. Your work makes a difference
in the lives of so many people across this country and
truly you are continuing the remarkable legacy of those women
organizers who came before you and who helped to make America
great just like we saw in the documentary, the Triangle Fire,
that occurred and the many women that lost their lives. There were 146. And many women, countless
women who continue to suffer, whether it’s in the
retail industry, whether it’s in the fields
of our country gathering our vegetables and fruits, or people
who clean our buildings at night, when no one is there and
people like yourselves who are making a difference and people
who service wearing the uniform, different uniforms who make a big
difference here for our country. We want to say thank
you to all of you. What I want to share with you is
that across my travels around the country I have seen so many
different examples of courageous women who have made a difference
and working men and women are out there and all they want is
to be able to stand up to have their voices heard at work. And they want to, they want to
work hard on behalf of their familes and for
their communities. And in closing I would just like
to ask the women in our front row who are here as our guests
to join me on the stage so that we can also hear from
you very briefly. And I want to say to you that
we’re all coming together on this wonderful day, on
this wonderful occasion, on this wonderful month
that we dedicate to women, Women’s History Month, but
also to promoting good jobs, safe jobs, and promoting a good
tradition of democracy in our country. So if we could do that and I
would ask the women to please to come up and introduce themselves
and we’ll form our line here and we’ll get to see all
these outstanding women. Speaker:
(foreign language) Interpreter:
She is from San Antonio,
Texas, and she works at a hotel. And she is going to
tell us more now. (laughter) Speaker:
(foreign language) Interpreter:
She is very proud of her work. She is very proud every day
when she puts her uniform on. Because they work
such long hours. In 2010, she got together with a
coworker and they were working together and are working
together to figure out how they can, their rights
can be represented. (applause) Katie Hoffman:
Good morning, my name is Katie
Hoffman and I’m a music teacher, kindergarten through 6th
grade in Cincinnati, Ohio. My union has worked with our
school district leadership to create a career ladder. I have been able to assume
leadership roles in curriculum development, monitoring and
evaluating teachers and developing more resources
for our children. Through collaboration and
shared decision making with our administration, community
and teachers together, our union has helped make
Cincinnati public schools a better school district. Thank you. (applause) Anna Herlita:
(foreign language) Interpreter:
Her name is Anna Helita and
she’s here representing farm workers in the State
of North Carolina. Speaker:
(foreign language) Interpreter:
I’ll try to remember everything. She worked in Mexico in the
fields doing farm work since she was six years old. Then she came to the U.S.
and she did the same type of work here. Then she started working at
hotels and nursing homes and was working many long hours without
getting sufficient amount of pay. So she began to get together
with friends and other groups to figure out how to be able to
represent her rights as well as other workers rights. (applause) Speaker:
(foreign language) (applause) Interpreter:
She now supports the movement
because unity gives you a voice. (applause) Secretary Solis:
Yes. Bonnie Hensley Webb:
I’m Bonnie Hensley Webb. I’ve been a firefighter for the
City of Indianapolis, Indiana, for 28 years. The career of a firefighter
includes unique and often dangerous working conditions. And our union — the Triangle
Factory fire is a great example, tries to learn from history, our
union through safety training and continuing education has
made us safer and hopefully more effective workers. (applause) Christine Dexter:
Good morning, I’m Christine Dexter and I am a Comcast technician out of the Fairhaven/Fall River areas in Massachusetts. We as Comcast employees feel
that we work for a great company. It’s a company that we have
been trying to have recognize us right now. We’d like the chance to sit
down with them and begin our collective bargaining for
things that we believe a union can greatly help us with
as strongly as — I’m sorry, I’m nervous — (applause) — were fighting for job security and most importantly a voice in our workplace. Thank you. (applause) Eugenia Beck:
Hi, my name is Eugenia Beck
and I’m a school bus driver with Durham School Bus Company in Laguna beach, California. For the last three years I
haven’t received any pay raise and working conditions
have been worse. Some coworkers have to live in
substandard housing and most of us have to go to the food
bank to get our food. But since I have became a member
of the union I now have hope that we will soon have a good
contract and I will — it will allow me to earn a living wage. Thank you. (applause) Secretary Solis:
Thank you. Regina Pixley:
Good morning, I’m
honored to be here. My name is Regina Pixly and I am
a security officer working here in the District of Columbia
in the public school system. I have done security for about
seven years and I must say that this year is the worst
with this contractor. I work for U.S. Security Associates. They cut our wages. We have no sick leave benefits,
vacation or anything. And when I asked a supervisor
about the wages in union they say we’re lucky to have a job. I am lucky in this tough
economy to have a job, however, the luck is just not
supporting my family, it’s not allowing me to send
my daughter back to college. She’s in her second year. And I have to rely on food
stamps to feed my family. So I decided to organize with
the union to make a better way. (applause) Secretary Solis:
Thank you. Can we get all the
women to stand here. And, please, we have
some more, yes, okay. Sorry, all right. Carolyn Sleigh:
Hi, my name is Carolyn
Sleigh, I’m from Mobile, Alabama, and I work
at Austal Shipyard. And right now we’re trying to
get a union because we want wage equality, you know. (applause) Secretary Solis:
Thank you. Could you all move up. Okay. We’ll move the chairs up so they
can line up in back of you so we can see everybody. Here we go. How are you? Shadia Estano Castillano:
Good morning, my name is
Shadis Estano Castillano, I am from Kissimmee, Florida,
and I am a flight attendant for Joppler (phonetic) airways. As workers we all understand the
economic challenges that face our country and our companies. Even if we have to
tighten our belts, collective bargaining allows
workers and employers the opportunity to sit down together
and find a fair solution that improves the quality of
life for everyone involved. Thank you. (applause) Secretary Solis:
Thank you, please join us. How are you? Angela Washington:
My name is Angela Washington and
I work at the Hyundai plant in Montgomery, Alabama. I believe that Hyundai needs a
union because it would allow me and my fellow team members to
have a voice to be able to speak with management as
equals, to bargain, to address the issues that
we have with the plant. (applause) Secretary Solis:
Thank you. Carla Stansbury:
Hello, my name is Carla Stansbury. I work at the Cenveo Envelope
in Clarksville, Missouri. I work hard to support my kids
and having a union means that if I’m treated unfairly I have
somebody to stand up for me and make sure that I
am treated fairly. Thank you. (applause) Secretary Solis:
Thank you. Toni Lardinois:
Good morning, my
name is Toni Lardinois, and I’m a business education
teacher at Franklin Middle School in the City of
Green Bay, Wisconsin. (cheering) Wisconsin, as you
know, just like Ohio, is the state that is passionate
about the movement to preserve workers’ rights in America. (applause) I, along with many other
women — phenomenal women, as my sister Nusika (phonetic)
would say — are the voices that provide access to our students
to learning environments and optimal educational opportunities with which they can compete locally,
nationally and globally, losing our collective
voices is not an option. (applause) Secretary Solis:
All right. And with that, we want to
introduce all of our guests. Please come forward so we can
get a nice photo with all of you, right up here.

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