OFCCP Director Shiu Closing Remarks at NILG Conference

Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP)

Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs – U.S. Department Of Labor
Marriott Wardman Park Hotel • Washington, DC
Friday, August 8, 2014 • 10:00 AM (EDT)

Good morning, NILG!

Thank you for inviting me to speak with you for the fifth consecutive year! This has been a busy and productive conference, and I’ve really enjoyed spending time at several plenary sessions and workshops with so many of you.

I’ve also been so pleased to welcome you to Washington, DC, this year. I know the conference planning committee worked really hard to prepare for every possible eventuality. But one of the facts of life in DC is this: a conference… in the middle of August… while Congress is in recess… when most of the city is on vacation… sounds like a great idea… right up until motorcades carrying 50 heads of state took over the town and created a different kind of gridlock than the kind we usually experience.

Welcome to life in the capital!

I hope you have found this conference to be illuminating and that you have taken the opportunity to build new relationships, strengthen old ones and really collaborate across companies and industries. A lot of attention is placed on speakers and presenters like me. But I’m really glad that the planning committee also built in so much time for you to get to know your very best resources: the people sitting around you in this room.

This sort of relationship–building is really important to us at OFCCP because we know that we don’t do this work alone. We don’t operate in a vacuum. And I, for one, have benefited tremendously from my relationships with you – with your members and with your local, regional and national leaders.

I’ll give you a notable example:

For nearly two years, I have been sharing a story about one of the best pieces of advice I’ve gotten as Director of OFCCP. It had to do with our rulemaking on Section 503 and VEVRAA. I regularly tell audiences of employers and advocates that “two wise women” came to me, early in the rulemaking process, and said, “Pat, give us the flexibility we need. Tell us what you want, but let us figure out how to get there. Don’t prescribe the process. Prescribe the outcome.”

When I share that story, I usually keep the identities of those “wise women” confidential. But that piece of advice was really an “aha” moment for me in thinking about our regulations. And I believe in giving credit where credit is due. So, today, I think it’s fitting that I reveal the identities of those two wise women because they are YOUR wise women.

Valerie Vickers and Cynthia Collver have been outstanding leaders of this National Industry Liaison Group. I consider them to be great colleagues and trusted advisors. So, I hope you will join me in thanking them for their incredible leadership, contributions to the success of this organization and tireless efforts to strengthen the partnership between OFCCP and the NILG.

I also want to congratulate and welcome your new leaders – the “Ellas” as I’ve come to think of them: Ornella Castman and Stella Raymaker. The “Ellas” are well–known to all of us at OFCCP from their work on this conference and on the NILG Board. I look forward to working with both of them and benefiting from their wisdom, too.

I’d like to extend my appreciation to the entire NILG Board, all the Chairs and, really, all of you for continuing to make this conference bigger and better every year.

Finally, I want to thank the members of my staff who have served as coordinators and presenters at this conference. I’d like to ask all the OFCCP staff in the room to please stand and be recognized. I also want to give a very special shout out to our Mid–Atlantic Regional Director Michele Hodge who led our agency’s participation in this conference.

Thank you, Michele. And thank you, all.

You have heard from our national and regional leadership at OFCCP, from contractor representatives, and from each other about regulations, enforcement and meaningful compensation analysis.

We came here to listen and listen we did.

Sometimes we are on the same page and other times we respectfully disagree. But this level of engagement shows how seriously you are taking your role as a partner in combating discrimination, opening the doors of opportunity for all workers and closing the pay gap. I hope that engagement and partnership will continue as we move forward with what’s next.

And on the matter of what’s next, I think it’s an understatement to say that we – you and I both – have some big assignments on our plates.

In just the past five months, much has happened in the contractor space. President Obama calls this a “year of action,” because we believe the American people simply cannot wait for Congress to enact meaningful legislation to protect workers, expand the middle class and grow our economy.

But to be clear about the President’s action agenda, none of the reforms of the past five months are new ideas:

  • President Obama campaigned and won two elections on a pledge to end workplace discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans. He asked Congress repeatedly to pass the Employment Non Discrimination Act, or ENDA.
  • We haven’t raised the minimum wage in five years, and the tipped minimum wage was last increased in the 1990s.
  • The last time our construction goals were updated at OFCCP was in the early 1980s.
  • Our shared commitment to creating job opportunities for protected veterans and qualified workers with disabilities date back to the 1970s.
  • And equal pay has been the law of the land since the 1960s.

This is not the new business of President Obama. It is the unfinished business of America. And, as my colleague Kathy Martinez said to you yesterday, at some point we have to stop talking about doing something and get to the business of doing it.

Here’s the silver lining for all of you: at some point, we are going to have a Congress that enacts many of these reforms into law. After all, fair wages, equal opportunity, paycheck fairness and employment nondiscrimination are ideas that most Americans embrace. So, when they finally become the law for all employers, you will be ahead of the curve. You will have a head start.

That has been the history of federal contractors for more than seven decades. You are called to lead by example. You establish the standards. You set the tone.

Robert Kennedy once said, “Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

As employers, you have the power to create ripples of hope that manifest into tangible jobs. And, I have to tell you, a fair shot, a fair shake, a chance to work and to make meaningful contributions – that’s the sort of hope that so many of our fellow Americans need most right now.

This is the power of what you can do, of what you will do for our country.

And we will be there beside you – growing and changing and transforming our efforts to match the evolving nature of your workplaces. From implementing our regulations to coordinate with your tech systems and beefing up our compliance assistance programs to improving consistency across our field offices and revising our investigative protocols – we are committed today, more than ever, to facilitating your success.

One example of that evolution is our Functional Affirmative Action Program, or FAAP. For those of you who are not familiar with it, a FAAP is a written strategic plan based on functional or business units rather than establishments. It’s an alternative to producing multiple AAPs for all of your establishments. Instead, you can apply to join this program and develop a FAAP based on the functional or business units where decisions actually get made.

The FAAP was established at the end of the Clinton administration and revamped about two years ago with a few necessary changes to reflect the fact that your workplaces change over time. So, for instance, we reduced the term of the FAAP agreement to three years, in part, to reflect the dynamic and rapidly changing structures of many of your businesses. We also aligned compliance reviews for FAAP contractors to be consistent with the same field–based model we use for individual establishment reviews. That way, the audit process is similar before and after you join the FAAP.

This is a great program. It’s an example of something OFCCP developed over three administrations and continues to refine and improve. We’ve heard from so many contractors that they find this to be a much easier way to manage their affirmative action responsibilities. But too many contractors are not aware of this option.

So, I urge you to check out the FAAP section of our web site. Learn about the program and consider applying if you qualify and if it looks like a good fit. My staff is always ready, able and willing to answer your questions and provide information to help you make the best choice for your company.

In this and so many other respects, we have been working to facilitate your success.

And now, we need you to model that success.

Federal contractors and subcontractors should be model employers just as we, in the federal government, must be with our employment practices. This is the responsibility we share as employers who receive taxpayer dollars.

This is also the thinking behind an Executive Order President Obama signed last week to ensure fair pay and safe workplaces by making sure that federal funds don’t subsidize bad employment practices. Rewarding contractors who cut corners doesn’t just hurt their employees. It hurts the overwhelming majority of you who do right by your workers.

Look, this is not a gotcha exercise. The Secretary made that clear when he addressed you on Wednesday. We’re not trying to keep companies from winning federal contracts. Rather, we want to bring more companies into compliance. And we want to do so in a way that imposes minimal burdens on the vast majority of companies who do play by the rules.

President Obama often says that, in America, if you work hard, take responsibility and play by the rules, you deserve a fair shot at getting ahead. It’s true for workers, and it ought to be true for employers too.

Modeling success also means modeling best behaviors to become industry leaders. I hope that the ripple effect of this conference will be that the best practices you have shared will influence the actions of your peers.

For example, I know that there have been several productive conversations about how to promote diverse and more inclusive work environments by creating and supporting affinity and employee resource groups. I know you’ve talked about the importance of quality vs. quantity when it comes to recruiting veterans and people with disabilities in your workforce. I heard a great idea about flipping the job fair model to a community fair one where employers can learn about and build relationships with community-based organizations. That way you can figure out how to focus your recruitment efforts on entities that will get you the kinds of referrals you most need.

Modeling best behaviors takes your success and makes it our collective success. It raises everyone’s game and – as we have seen with companies like Walgreen’s and Lowe’s and with the Chamber of Commerce’s Hiring Our Heroes initiative – it becomes part of your company’s brand.

And, by the way, your customers are paying attention. Increasingly, we find that they care about diversity. They care deeply about fairness. And they notice the absence of either and react accordingly.

For all the imperfections in our history – the setbacks and the dark chapters – the truth is that what defines us as Americans is not our achievement of perfection but, rather, our unyielding belief that we can be more perfect. The very fact that we use a phrase like “more perfect” says a lot about us as a people, about our pride in who we are and about our faith in what we must become.

In closing, let me say that this is a transformative moment for civil rights that harkens back to the period, 50 years ago, when our country took several important steps to redeem the promise of our founding.

I think it’s important that we remember that none of it was inevitable. Each of the great movements that led us to the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, Executive Order 11246, the Equal Pay Act, Section 503, VEVRAA, the ADA, Lilly Ledbetter and the executive actions of the past five months – each of those movements were vital to our progress. And none of them were easy.

Every step of the way, there were opponents and obfuscators who tried to derail the train of progress. They tried to shout us down and tell us that our journey was misguided. There were false starts and plenty of delays along the way. But the train kept moving.

You see, once those dual whistles of equality and opportunity were sounded at the birth of this nation, there was just no stopping that train of progress. Sure, it went silent for a time. And there were periods when we needed to stop and refuel. But the train always moves forward because we always seem to find a way to get back on track.

This is the journey that has led us to this place…

  • to an African American President who is a direct product of that journey;
  • to a Latino Secretary of Labor – the son of immigrants – who is a beneficiary of that journey;
  • to me, a biracial woman – the daughter of a single mother and the granddaughter of a Chinese American fruit vendor and an Irish American factory worker – who gets the responsibility and the enormous privilege of conducting part of that train for a little while longer.

I promise you this: we’re going to keep moving. We’re going to keep listening. And we’re going to keep bringing workers and employers, advocates and consultants, researchers and yes, even all of you lawyers aboard… because that is the only model of success that will work in a true democracy.

Thank you very much!