Lynn Woolsey was re-elected to her seventh term in Congress with 72 percent of the vote, representing California’s Marin and Sonoma Counties. She chairs the Democratic Caucus Task Force on Children and Families and is the Ranking Member of the House Education Committee’s Subcommittee on Education Reform. In the 109th Congress, Rep. Woolsey was chosen Ranking Member, top Democrat, on the House Education and Workforce Committee’s subcommittee on Education Reform. In that role, she is working with both sides of the aisle to make education the nation’s number one priority.
Thank you very much, and thank you Maxine for those nice words of introduction and thank you Leo for your leadership over the years, and I miss you. You don't have to be here. What you do is way more important than listening to me right now. What a great honor it is to be here with the men and women, wonderful people, The United Steelworkers. You represent the very best of skill and ingenuity and Americanism all the way through and I thank you for being who you are.
If I could see you I would say this, but I'm going to say it anyway because I have been running into you all over the hotel so I can say it for sure that looking at the glorious diversity of the United Steelworkers leaves no question that your union has become more effective as you have been become more inclusive. By opening your membership doors to other manufacturing sectors and service industry workers you have added to your numbers as you have added to your strength, and when you ratify the merger with PACE later this week, I'm confident that you will become an even more powerful force.
I'll be honest with you, where I come from in California, Sonoma and Marin counties, you know we are just north of San Francisco across the Golden Gate Bridge, when you get halfway across the bridge going north you are in Woolsey country. But my district probably has more gourmet coffee shops than we have steel workers. But lucky for me, we do have a community of people who care passionately, and I mean passionately about workers and about economic justice. In fact, just recently when we had a grocery store strike the grocery stores were empty and it was our way in my district of telling our grocery clerks that we support them in every effort that they do.
I'm proud to represent such principal people and I'm proud to be one of your champions in the U.S. House of Representatives. You see, I truly believe that we can't have a strong America without a strong middle class, and we can't have a strong middle class without a strong labor movement. Historically steel has been more than an occupation or a livelihood in America, it's been a way of life that sustains communities and binds generations.
Who built the infrastructure that was the foundation of the 20th Century American economic growth?
Steelworkers. Who helped build the Golden Gate Bridge, Hoover Dam and countless other historic sites and monuments? Steelworkers. The sweat on your brow, the calluses on your hands, the pain in your lower back have made us safe and prosperous and free, and I thank you.
Despite your sacrifices for our country, the President of the United States and the majority in congress appear to have nothing but contempt for your values and your interests. And that contempt reflects a broader indifference, one that ignores the importance of sustaining a robust middle class in the United States. Before he even had time to unpack his bags and change the curtains in The White House, President Bush was going after American workers by signing a bill to overturn the ergonomics rules, and since then every step of the way he and his congressional allies have done everything in their power to try to keep you down, everything in their power to destabilize American workers with laws and regulations that undermine the right to organize. Trade agreements that sell out American workers, a regressive tax policy that lavishes the wealthy and rewards companies from moving jobs to overseas, an overtime rule that would deny millions of workers the time and a half that they deserve. A Medicare bill that does nothing to bring down prescription drug prices, but does everything to subsidize the HMOs and insurance companies. Meanwhile, the federal minimum wage has been stuck at $5.15 an hour since 1997 with only one increase in the last 15 years.
You think the price of a dozen eggs or children's shoes has only gone up once since 1989? And what about the price of gasoline? This is not the way to send a message that our nation values work. What happens when economic pressure or out of control health care costs bring families to their knees? That infamous compassion of theirs is nowhere to be found. They want to make it even harder for families who are in financial trouble, harder for them to file for bankruptcy. Well, of course, corporations can take advantage of loopholes and avoid accountability all the way around. It's kind of ironic if you think about it. The Republicans want to punish families that over extend their credit cards because of a medical emergency. But okay, it's just fine for the government to squander record surpluses and put the country in hoc, bankers half way around the world.
In the Bush world view if you are wealthy or well connected you always get a second chance or a special break. But if you are just an anonymous middle class family living off wages rather than investments, there will be nobody home if you go knocking at The White House door. To be fair to the president, he almost did the right thing three years ago when he opposed tariffs to protect steel from unfair competition. But ultimately, as we all know, he didn't have the courage of his convictions, and it eventually became clear that he was more interested in tossing you around like a political football than helping restore your competitiveness. The tariffs were only around as long as they were useful to George Bush. Thanks in large part to your leadership and the shrewd negotiating of the USW, there has been something of a rebound in steel and other manufacturing sectors. But there is a long way to go before the disastrous effects of Bush economic policies can be reversed. Layoffs continue. Wages remain stagnant, energy and health care costs continue to rise and this is what they call a jobless recovery.
To me, a recovery without jobs is like a meal without food. But this administration is not content just to make your working years as difficult as possible. They want to destroy your retirement as well. They want to undermine the defined benefit pension system and knock the teeth out of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation. And in keeping with their philosophy that working families shouldn't be exposed to as much risk as possible, they want to privatize our most successful government program and end social security as we know it.
For 70 years now social security has represented a promise, a guarantee, a contract between generations. If you work your whole life your country and your fellow citizens will not let you slip into poverty in your old age. The president and the privatization forces want to take social insurance -- want to take our social insurance plan, a stable, life long benefit that can't be taken away and turn it into a high stakes investment game. Would any one of you leave this room and throw down your retirement assets on the Black Jack table?
There is a reason it's not called social insecurity.
It's not supposed to be exposed to the roller coaster whims of the stock market. Let me be clear, I believe we should absolutely encourage private savings, especially for low income families to help build a larger retirement necessary, but we should only encourage investments on top of the social security program. Leaving aside the philosophical differences for a more practical perspective, privatization is shockingly irresponsible fiscal policy. If we drain money out of the system and divert it to private accounts, how do we make up for the short fall to pay for those who stay in the system? Well, we would have to borrow. So our record deficits would get even larger, and who would pay the bill? Our grandchildren, that's who. And our president says that his policy is supposed to be helping them, our grandchildren. That is not correct, it will hurt them drastically. If you went to a doctor with a skinned knee, and he said he wanted to amputate your entire leg, you would call him a quack and you would walk out of his office.
That's what's going on here, to social security. Social security has a skinned knee, a minor affliction, a long-term finance challenge. It's a challenge that's easily treated, but the president wants to use the privatization scalpel to amputate the leg and disfigure the entire program.
Don't kid yourself. They do not want to strengthen social security, they want to destroy it. Instead of facing programs like social security that help to sustain the middle class, we really ought to be enhancing them. And, as I said, we should have a savings plan on top of social security.
There is another crisis for American workers around this country and the Bush White House is refusing to address it as well. At a time when Americans have to work harder than ever just to get by, how do they bridge work and family commitments to raise healthy responsible children? You know how times have changed, we all do. By economic necessity two income households are more the norm than the exception. Fewer and fewer families have the luxury of a stay-at-home parent.
In the past, of course, it was usually the mother to monitor homework, prepare the meals, make sure there is no one getting into trouble.
This is becoming a rarity today. This trend hasn't exactly snuck up on us, it's been happening for decades now. But our public policy has failed to keep up with these rapid social and economic developments. That's why I have been working on legislation that I call the balancing act. To help American workers manage the precarious balance between work and family the balancing act provides for paid family leave for the birth or adoption of a child or if you have to take time off of work to tend to a sick child or parent you will be paid and no longer would your employer just hold your place while you are on leave. Under my plan you would continue to receive a salary as well.
The lack of safe affordable child care is a national disgrace so the balancing act calls for major investment in child care so we can modernize old child care facilities and build new ones, so we can help businesses provide on-site care centers, so we can train child care instructors and give them a decent salary and benefits. So we can expand curriculums to better accommodate younger children and special needs children.
The balancing act also includes voluntary universal preschool. We have known for a long, long time that the years before children turned five are the most critical to their intellectual development. It's absolutely insane that we send so many children off to kindergarten unprepared to learn, already lagging behind those who have had the advantage of early childhood education.
The balancing act would also expand our school meals program and after-school programs as well. Because it's usually in the late afternoon hours after class is dismissed and before parents are home from work, between the school bell and the dinner bell actually that juvenile delinquency and teen pregnancies happen. We need to give parents piece of mind that their kids will be fed and occupied with supervised activities until the workday ends. And, actually, those activities need to be activities that the young people want and will enjoy and where they will feel that they belong.
Well, that's the balancing act. It's something that has to be put in place eventually because it acknowledges the needs and the challenges of families who are trying so hard, long work hours, long commute hours to bridge family and their work at the same time. No parent should have to ever make a decision of whether it's they will lose their job or take care of their family. They have to be able to do both. Half a century ago progressive government programs like the GI bill helped create the American middle class. As the economy and society have transformed drastically we need a new approach to public policy that makes the American dream a reality for a new generation. But our leaders in Washington aren't rising to the challenge. They are content to preside over a gradual decline of the middle class and they are actively pursuing strategy to under cut organized labor at every turn possible.
Organized labor has been one of our greatest forces for economic security in upward mobility. Organized labor is why the United States has been the country we have been proud of because we have had such a strong, thoughtful, caring middle class. We cannot be the country we are without you. So this brings me back to you because it means you will need to be even more organized, as your leader said this morning, more passionate and more vigilant than ever, ever before.
The stakes here are nothing less than the continued viability of our proud unions and the working families they represent. I know you will be unrelenting in this battle and you know I'll be right there fighting alongside you. Thank you very much.