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Labor Secretary Perez Featured at NYC Regional Forum on Working Families

May 14, 2014

U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez (left), along with several New York elected officials, including Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Mayor Bill de Blasio, Congressman Charles Rangel, and other members of the state’s congressional delegation, spoke at the New York City Regional Forum on Working Families on May 12.

The event was the third of five regional forums leading up to the White House Summit on Working Families, which will be held in Washington, D.C. on June 23. The NYC forum was hosted jointly by the Center for American Progress, the Department of Labor, and the White House Council on Women and Girls.

The NYC forum brought federal, state, and local policymakers together with business leaders, experts, and advocates to discuss the issues facing working families. It focused on how businesses and public policy must respond to meet the needs of the 21st-century workforce — a growing number of whom are women.

Perez, speaking before an audience of hundreds, said, “The opportunity quilt is fraying.” It used to be that “if you worked hard, you could punch a ticket to the middle class.”

[Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D, NY)]Today, however, people are “working hard, falling further behind, and winding up on public assistance,” he said. “They are playing by the rules, working 70 hours a week, and still on food stamps.

“The most important value is time with your family, but that is impossible when people are working two and three jobs,” Perez said. “It’s important to put food on the table but we want you to be at the table.”

The speakers and panelists discussed several solutions for improving the workplace to better support working families, improve businesses’ bottom line, and ensure global economic competitiveness.

Among the issues discussed were:

  • raising the federal minimum wage
  • health benefits
  • paid sick time
  • paid leave for maternity, eldercare, and childcare needs through employee and employer contributions
  • publicly supported child care, such as universal pre-K
  • job flexibility
  • mentors for women in the workplace

Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor to President Obama, said this is “not just a women’s issue, it’s a family issue.” Jarrett also spoke at the Chicago forum.

Gillibrand, a proponent of raising the federal minimum wage, said that studies have shown that a stronger wage leads to “higher productivity, increased efficiency, happier employees, and better outcomes.”

The panel of business leaders concurred that a small investment in employees goes a long way. One said that in the end, he saves money because of improved employee retention.

— by Deane Beebe

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