Valerie Jarrett at the AFL-CIO National Conference on Diversity and Inclusion

On Sunday September 8th, Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to the President addressed an audience of nearly one thousand AFL-CIO union leaders and allies at their national conference on diversity and inclusion, held this week in Los Angeles. Secretary of Labor, Tom Perez is also scheduled to address the conference on Tuesday.

Prepared Remarks by Valerie Jarrett on September 8th, 2013 in Los Angeles, California

Hello everyone, and thank you for having me!  

Let me first thank my dear friend, President, Trumka and the entire leadership team – Secretary-Treasurer Shuler, Executive Vice President Holt-Baker, delegates, and all the local, civil rights, women’s rights, and faith leaders who have made this conference possible. I still remember having breakfast with Rich when he told me about his dad being so ill from silica, and listening to him cough. The effect his dad's illness had on his whole family was devastating. Rich said he would never give up until we passed the rule. He did not give up and neither did we.

The Speaker of the California Assembly – John Perez, has also joined us today… As well as the General Secretary of the International confederation of Trade Unions – Sharon Burrow.

Now— President Obama asked that I express his deepest regrets for not being able to make it in person.  He is here with us in spirit – and without a doubt – he is firmly committed to the causes you champion. He fully appreciates the role of the AFL-CIO in driving this country’s vital conversation – on the future of working people and our unions.  Which is exactly why he appointed Secretary Tom Perez to head our Labor department.  Tom is a tireless advocate… with a stout record for protecting American workers.  I know he is looking forward to joining you here on Tuesday.

As President Obama commemorated the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington on August 28th, he quoted the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: “Decent wages, fair working conditions, livable housing, old age security, health and welfare measures, conditions in which families can grow, have education for their children, and respect in the community—is the American Dream for all.” The Labor Movement has, and continues to be, a leading force in ensuring the preservation and accessibility of that Dream for all people.  We are a nation built by working men and women… who not only fuel our economy… but who provide the moral building blocks of our society. 

Responsibility, sacrifice, hard work…. and the fierce instinct to watch each other’s backs.  It is the American worker who breathes life into our national identity.

This is why the President has committed to fight for you.  Because a better bargain, and a real chance to get ahead should be within reach for anyone willing to roll up their sleeves, and work hard in this country.  There are some benefits to hard work that shouldn’t be reserved just for the rich.  Affordable access to great schools.  Quality care and affordable coverage when you get sick. A home of your own.  A good job.  Because we all know that a job is about more than a paycheck.  It’s about the pride of caring for the people we love, and giving our kids a chance to live out their dreams. And of course— a secure retirement.  We should all have the right to retire with dignity!

And let’s not forget about a solid wage…. The President has said that it is time to raise the minimum wage, because no one who works full time should have to raise their children in poverty.  He will fight to get American workers the pay and security they deserve, and with your help, this is a fight we can and must win.

This conference is a chance to examine the progress organized labor has made, and the challenges that lie ahead as we work to build a more inclusive and diverse labor movement.  American labor is uniquely positioned to lead this country by example—  by respecting and compensating men and women in the workplace equally, by showing zero tolerance for racism, sexism, or any form of discrimination on the job, and by ensuring that opportunity will never escape one of our brothers or sisters because of a disability.  Making sure that no one is left behind as our workforce continues to grow and advance, is the American way.  It is essential to our success as a nation.

I feel optimistic about where we are headed, and along with the President, will continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with leaders like Rich, Liz and Arlene – to fight for all the rights and opportunities that matter most to working America. That includes efforts underway at OSHA to protect workers from crystalline silica particles – and of course the implementation of health reform.  This will be an important fall for the Affordable Care Act – as millions prepare to finally get the coverage they need at prices they can afford.  Though challenges remain—as should be expected when working to solve any problem so big – we are committed to sitting down in good faith to work through solutions.

Please go into this conference, and carry with you back home, the firm knowledge that your President and his Administration, care about you, and stand with you.  Even as threats and global crisis unfold overseas – not a day goes by when we don’t wake up with you and your families in mind.  We believe in you, and will stay committed to do everything in our power to make sure all your hard work pays off.

Thank you again for having me. Please have a wonderful conference!