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Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis Addresses National Nurses United

U.S. Department of Labor, 5/11/10

By Hilda L. Solis, Secretary of Labor
U.S. Department of Labor
May 11, 2010

Good morning National Nurses United!

Thank you Ms. Zenei Cortez for the kind introduction.

And thank you all for the invitation to join you today.

I want to say hello to all my nursing friends from California.

I am proud to have worked with you on several issues that impact the health of families as a former member of Congress.

It's an honor to be around those who work on the frontline's... who on a daily basis are helping save lives.

On behalf of the Department of Labor we want to thank you for the incredibly important work you do.

For you, nursing is not just a job, it's a calling.

Doctors are focused on the cure of illness, while nurses are also focused on helping the patient and family adapt to illness.

Nurses share the most intimate moments with their patients and are the most trusted health care professional today.

I was introduced as the Secretary of Labor; well I wanted to let you know that I'm changing my title.

I am the Secretary of Workplace Safety!

Because the reality is that in our country, every day 14 people die at work.

More than 4 million are seriously injured and the sad fact is that most — if not all of these — are injuries and fatalities that could have been easily prevented.

This is no longer acceptable and must stop!

All of you in this room do some of the most dangerous, most necessary work that this nation demands.

All workers need and deserve a safe workplace — women, African — Americans, Latinos, low-skilled and low-income workers.

And our worker protection laws apply to every worker in the United States, including those who are undocumented.

That is why I have made a commitment from my first day in office that we will enhance our enforcement agencies and our regulatory agenda.

Nurses are on the front line of patient care in this country.

We need to make sure that their health and safety is protected.

This is not just a moral obligation; it's an economic and practical necessity.

In 2008, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, showed more than 36,000 healthcare workers were injured enough to miss work from lifting and transferring patients.

Almost all of the injured workers were nurses and nursing aides, and most were women.

Twelve percent of nurses who planned to leave the profession cited back injuries as a contributing factor.

What a waste when the career of an experienced nurse is ended years or decades too early because of an easily preventable back injury!

And in these days of ever-rising health care costs, what a waste of money to pay workers compensation and disability for easily preventable back injuries.

We know how to prevent back injuries; we know that affordable mechanical lifting equipment can.

So, I applaud Chairman Conyers, Senator Franken, Senator Boxer and Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy for their work on the Safe Patient Handling Legislation.

At the Department of Labor we are also working on new standards that will protect nurses:

  • We've begun work on a standard that will protect nurses against infectious diseases. Right now OSHA only has a standard that covers blood borne pathogens.
  • We also understand that OSHA will never be able to have a standard covering all workplace hazards, nor will we be able to inspect every workplace in the country. So we've announced rulemaking on an Injury and Illness Protection Standard that would require all employers to "find and fix" every hazard in their workplace.

We know this is a serious for nurses and look forward to working with them to provide solutions.

The Department of Labor stands with you and we are here to make sure your workplace rights are protected!

Because we know that your job means more than just a paycheck.

It's about dignity, respect, and most importantly — your health.

And as we are protecting the health of workers, we are also investing in their future.

Since the recession began, there have been very few bright spots to talk about.

But one has been the growing and expanding careers in the health care.

That is why the Labor Department has invested over $220 million in allied health careers!

Whenever I speak with a nursing student in one of our Labor Department funded programs, they always tell me that they chose nursing because of the diversity the profession provides them.

And I would like to share one example with you.

While touring a Department of Labor funded nursing program in Kansas, I met a man who was a UAW member, working on a car assembly line.

He lost his job and was looking for a career change.

He heard about the training we were providing in several health care careers and enrolled in classes.

This former UAW worker went from the assembly line, to the life-line and is now a registered nurse!
Just like this example, there are hundreds more!

As a nurse you can work in a variety of settings ranging from the hospital to outpatient clinics, emergency rooms, community health centers, visiting nurse agencies, schools, work places, nursing homes, and the military.

With this shortage of nurses expected to last well into the 21st century, nurses are in high demand and start at an approximate salary of $50,000 in the larger metropolitan areas in the country.

And as our population ages and requires more complex health care, we will face challenges finding enough qualified nurses for the many openings in the field.

In many regions, Health Care jobs offer good pay, benefits, and opportunities for advancement.

Our programs offer career tracks in nursing and other fields provide both new entrants to the workforce and workers looking for a career change the opportunity to gain employment while continuously working toward a new career.

You all know this, but I need your help in promoting health care careers.

The Department of Labor just launched its Career Video Challenge to increase worker awareness of high-growth and in-demand occupations.

We are asking workers to film one-to-three minute videos that provide a "day in the life" look at 15 in-demand occupations — and one of these occupations is nursing.

We are appealing to members of the public, employer associations, unions, businesses — anyone who thinks they have a great idea for one of these videos is welcome to participate.

Bottom line, we are looking for videos that highlight high-growth careers.

By the way, there is a $1,000 cash prize for the top video in each of the 15 categories.

I'm sure there's a winner in our audience today and I encourage you to participate.

While jobs in nursing and health care are good paying and satisfying jobs — it's not a good job unless you have a voice in the workplace.
I support your rights to organize and bargain collectively.

Workers are facing unprecedented challenges, and they need the voice on the job that unions provide.

Make no mistake; you've got a White House and a Labor Department that is working for you.

You've got an Administration keeping its promises to working people.

That is why I was so pleased to see that President Obama has nominated Elena Kagan for the Supreme Court.

She is widely regarded as one of the nation's leading legal minds.

She was the first woman to serve as Dean in Harvard Law School's 186-year old history. And she was the first woman to serve as Solicitor General.

I hope that the Senate will act in a bipartisan fashion, as they did in confirming Elena to be our Solicitor General last year, and that they will do so as swiftly as possible, so she can get busy and take her seat in time to fully participate in the work of the Court this fall.

At the Department of Labor, we are not only focused on creating jobs, but making sure that those jobs are safe and secure!

We will continue to do our part to invest and protect our most precious resource... America's workers.

You all know, that there is never a dull moment as a nurse!

Most important of all — you are making a difference in the lives of others.

Thank you for all that you do.

And thank you for helping us usher in the change that we all believe in!

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