“The people are what matter to government, and a government should aim to give all the people under its jurisdiction the best possible life.” Those are the words of Frances Perkins, Labor secretary under President Franklin D. Roosevelt. She was the first woman to hold a cabinet position and the namesake of the Department of Labor’s headquarters in Washington, D.C.
As the secretary of Labor nominee, Andy Puzder was a credible threat to the America that Perkins envisioned and helped make real. We are relieved that grassroots pressure from working people led to his withdrawal.
The America I know is full of working women who get up every day and give their blood, sweat and tears to support themselves and their families. It’s the mothers and daughters who make burger chains like Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. profitable. It’s the go-getters from coast to coast who build, teach, serve and care for our nation.
In the end, working women aren’t asking for the world. We want equal pay and equal opportunity. We want respect on the job and at home, and a steady schedule that allows for child care and education. We want to be protected from violence and sexual harassment. We want to be judged for our skills and dedication, not the color of our hair or the shape of our body. Finally, we want a Labor secretary who will stand and fight for us.
As a labor movement of 6.5 million women, we know how to work. We understand the path to a stronger and more fair America because we bargain for it every day —good wages, fair pay, time off when we need it, never having to choose between our job and a sick child. These are the values the Department of Labor must promote and protect, and these are the solemn responsibilities charged to the next Labor secretary.
Alexander Acosta, President Trump’s new nominee, is a vast improvement from Puzder. He has experience in public service and a deep knowledge of labor law. Our standard remains the same, however. Acosta must demonstrate his commitment to holding employers accountable, enforcing our rights and promoting equality in the workplace. He must outline his strategy for fostering an environment where all working people — regardless of gender — are treated with respect.
Working women face significant obstacles in today’s economy. Over half a century after President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act, we still make 79 cents on the dollar, and it’s even less for working women of color. We comprise two-thirds of minimum wage workers, have little access to paid family and sick leave, are being priced out of child care and have been forced to grapple with a spike in workplace violence and harassment.
These are the challenges the next Labor secretary must confront head-on. So our question to Mr. Acosta is this — how will you improve working people's lives? How will you use your office to make our workplaces more equal and just?
As we showed with Andy Puzder, working women know a fair deal and we aren't going to stand by and allow someone to be confirmed who doesn't protect our rights at work. No less than our livelihoods depend on getting this one right. Make no mistake, we intend to do exactly that.
Liz Shuler is secretary-treasurer of the 12.5 million-member AFL-CIO, America’s labor federation.
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