Remarks by Deputy Secretary of Labor Chris Lu at the 2015 International Labor Conference
UNITED STATES DEPUTY SECRETARY OF LABOR CHRISTOPHER P. LU
104TH SESSION OF THE INTERNATIONAL LABOR CONFERENCE
JUNE 11, 2015
Good afternoon. It is a great honor for me to address this distinguished body, especially at a critical time when so many nations are working towards the shared goals of greater opportunity, prosperity, and economic security for people around the world.
In the United States, we are proud of the resilience of our economy, which is now in the midst of the longest stretch of private sector job growth in our nation’s history. We have had 63 consecutive months of growth that has produced 12.6 million jobs. Our unemployment rate has fallen to 5.5 percent, and economic indicators across the board remain strong.
But despite our success in the U.S., we know that there is unfinished business. We know that there are lingering challenges. Too many of our people, no matter how hard they work, are still falling behind. They’re not earning their fair share of the value they create. Over the last several decades, even as worker productivity has steadily increased, wages have remained largely stagnant. That translates into declining living standards, reduced economic mobility, and a shrinking middle class. It means that the American Dream that attracted my parents to the U.S. is now out of reach for too many in my country.
That is why I welcome Director-General Ryder’s report on “the future of work.” Many of the changes and associated challenges he identifies are precisely those that must be addressed in order to ensure more broadly-shared prosperity for all people.
Sixty years ago, a person graduating from high school in the United States could reasonably expect to find middle-class work, very likely with the same employer throughout his or her lifetime, often with the benefits of membership in a labor union, and with a defined-benefit pension plan for a comfortable and dignified retirement.
The nature of work is changing in fundamental ways for many Americans and workers around the globe. As the Director-General noted in his report:
The prospect of a single job for a working life has become outdated in today’s world of work. The question is then the extent to which this archetype is to be replaced by ever more flexible, short-term and transient forms of work.
Workers today face numerous hurdles that were not present just a few short years ago: the increasing prevalence of short-term jobs; the fissuring of responsibility for hiring, pay, supervision, and training across multiple organizations; changes in the use of labor brokers, third-party management, independent contractors and temporary workers; and technological innovations that have transformed the traditional workplace and the search for work.
These changes have the potential to fundamentally alter the rights, protections, and expectations of workers, ultimately threatening the dignity of work – and the dignity of life. Now more than ever, we must continue pushing for a strong decent work agenda. We must ensure that core labor standards are protected and implemented, and that safety and health and acceptable conditions of work are an integral part of our growth agenda.
At the U.S. Department of Labor, we are exploring these challenges, yet we also understand that the new landscape of work can open the doors of opportunity to those who have traditionally not participated in the workforce. This December, we will host a symposium on the Future of Work that will bring together a wide range of thought leaders and stakeholders to discuss these challenges and opportunities — what they mean for workers and employers, and how government should adapt its policies.
As we consider the changes that have occurred to our workforce in recent years — and those changes still to come — it is critical that we come together as employers, workers, and government representatives to find shared solutions.
I am pleased that many American employers are stepping up to demonstrate their commitment to shared prosperity. Whether it is voluntary efforts to offer paid leave to workers or increase the minimum wage, or look at models of increased workplace flexibilities, employers in all sectors are recognizing that long-term investments in the workforce are good for the bottom line.
With a greater focus on shared solutions, we are confident that we can reach our goals of eliminating poverty, reducing inequality, promoting decent work and building a global economy that benefits all. We look forward to working with all of you as we forge the path to the future.
Thank you for your time.