Editor’s note: Leading up to Labor Day 2014, Secretary Tom Perez is traveling across the country to talk with Americans about how we can help more people succeed in the workplace and at home. Follow him along the way with live updates at www.dol.gov/LaborDay.
LeDaya Epps never had things handed to her. Raised in the Los Angeles foster care system until she was a teen, she graduated high school but found it difficult to find a job. After hitting a few roadblocks, she bounced around between jobs for a number of years as a medical assistant, but couldn’t find the stable work and pay that she needed to provide for her three children. At a job fair in Los Angeles, she was given an opportunity to complete an apprenticeship in construction. This meant completing a rigorous boot camp, and LeDaya became one of only two women to make it into the program. She now is a full-time apprentice helping construct an 8.5-mile light rail line.
Today, Secretary Tom Perez is traveling to Los Angeles to meet with her. This is the first of five “day in the life” visits Secretary Perez will be making over the next week during his travel across the country – a chance to talk directly with the people the Labor Department works for every day.
We want to make sure you see what he sees, too. Follow along for updates from his trip.
Apprenticeship in Action.
LeDaya meets Secretary Perez at the Crenshaw/LAX light rail line construction site − a new light rail line that will run through Los Angeles, Inglewood and El Segundo − where she works as a laborer apprentice.
Working in construction was a career that always interested LeDaya but didn’t think it was something a woman could do: “I always liked building stuff, but being a woman, I thought this was something I could never do. I was fascinated with it – I knew I wanted to get into a labor union.” Apprenticeships can be a springboard for women to get into the middle class, in both traditional and nontraditional careers. That’s just one reason the administration is working to grow the number of Registered Apprenticeships over the next several years.
Touring the construction site w/ LeDaya & other workers. “I love getting up & going to work every day,” she told me. pic.twitter.com/jhKd31h14M
— Tom Perez (@LaborSec) August 18, 2014
After touring the construction site, LeDaya and Secretary Perez sat down to chat. LeDaya told Secretary Perez that she is thankful to have people looking out for her now that she is part of a union: “I’m so blessed that I’m able to do stuff for me and my kids. I can now save money and I don’t have to worry about the little things as much – I can even take my kids out for dinner once in a while. I’m looking forward to working hard, building a career as a laborer, and being able to provide for myself and my family.”
LeDaya’s story is just one great example of how on the job training is working for Americans across the country. Through a joint partnership between the Labor Department and the Department of Transportation, this project is expected to create 18,000 jobs in fields like construction, maintenance and repair. It also is a great example of a project guided by an innovative project labor agreement, bringing together the L.A. Metro transit authority, unions, community groups and elected officials to higher disadvantaged workers from low-income areas.
We need more partnerships like this one in order to continue our economic recovery. That was one of the messages Secretary Perez shared earlier in the day when he stopped by the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce to meet with business owners and employers, members of nonprofits and foundations, local government officials and organized labor leaders.
— US Labor Department (@USDOL) August 18, 2014
And while job creation is a top priority, we must make sure we’re also creating good jobs. Many forward-looking employers reject the false choice that says you can accommodate either your shareholders or your employees. They see their human capital as a precious asset, one they must invest in to stay competitive. For example, Los Angeles-based Beanfields Snacks pays above the minimum wage because they know it’s both the right thing to do by their workers and the smart thing to do for their bottom line.
“We’ve got to stop thinking of the economy as a zero-sum game, where businesses can only thrive at the expense of workers.” – Secretary Perez
Also, a decade ago, California was the first state to enact a paid leave program, and studies have shown that it has succeeded in helping families without hurting businesses. The Labor Department is investing in research to learn from California and encourage other states to innovate in this area, because no one should have to choose between the job they need and taking care of a family member they love.
Tomorrow, Secretary Perez will be in Houston to meet with more workers, employers and community leaders. Get the latest on his trip here.