Labor Secretary Touts Efforts to Protect Migrant Workers

By Penny Starr | June 11, 2012 | 6:58 PM EDT

Labor Secretary Hilda Solis oversaw the signing Monday of agreements with Honduras, Peru, Ecuador and the Philippines to protect the rights of migrant workers in the U.S. ( Starr)

( – At a time when 12.7 million Americans are unemployed, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis oversaw the signing Monday of agreements with four foreign countries to protect the rights of migrant workers in the U.S.

“We’re here today to strengthen our countries’ shared commitment to protect the labor right of migrant workers in the United States,” Solis said at the signing ceremony at the department’s headquarters in Washington, D.C.

“Workers from Honduras, the Philippines, Peru and Ecuador are an important part of the American Labor Force. They work in hard-to-fill occupations,” she said. “And they pay taxes, rent and receive few government services. We’re grateful for their contributions to our economy.”

The latest data from the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics show that in May 8.2 percent of Americans – or 12,720,000 people – were jobless.

Under the agreements signed Monday, regional enforcement offices of the department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration and its Wage and Hour Division (WHD) “will cooperate with local consulates of the four countries,” according to a press release distributed at the event.

The arrangement will allow the U.S. and the consulates to “reach out to migrant workers with information about U.S. health, safety and wage laws.”

The agreements will also “target labor law enforcement efforts,” according to the department.

A fact sheet distributed at the event states that the WHD “is responsible for administering and enforcing laws that establish minimally acceptable standards for wages and working conditions in this country.”

“WHD is committed to ensuring that workers in this country are paid properly and for all the hours they work, regardless of immigration status,” it states.

Solis has overseen the signing of similar agreements in the past, including those with Nicaragua and Guatemala, and with Mexico.

Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, far left, with Ecuadorian Ambassador Nathalie Cely, Peruvian Ambassador Harold Forsyth, Philippines Ambassador Jose L. Cuisia Jr. and Honduran Ambassador Jorge Ramon Hernandez Alcerro. ( Starr)

Solis said migrant workers were “working long, hard and often dangerous hours” and were “vulnerable to abuse.”

“I’m proud to lead an agency that will not allow anyone to be denied his or her rightful pay,” she added.

Peruvian Ambassador Harold Forsyth said that Monday’s signing sent a “message of hope for the future” and also reflected the “concept of Latin America.”

“When I speak of Latin America we might also start considering the United States too,” the ambassador continued, adding that there were “probably 50 million or even more people living in the United States with a very strong Latin American culture – you, Madam Secretary, are a clear example of that too.”

“It means that the United States to some extent is a Latin American country also,” Forsyth said.

“So we have to share the vision for the future,” he added. “And these documents that we have signed, as I said, a step in the right direction.”

Solis responded to his remarks by saying that immigration is part of the “American dream.”

“Waves and waves of immigrants have come for centuries here and they find a safe haven here in the United States and we’re all very proud of our history,” she said.

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