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Secretary Of Labor Hears From Cincinnati Workers Who Say They've Faced Injustices: 'None Of That Should Happen In This Country'

U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh visited with workers at the Cincinnati Interfaith Workers Center.
Jolene Almendarez
U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh visited with workers at the Cincinnati Interfaith Workers Center.

U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh heard from Cincinnati workers Thursday who told him their experiences being mistreated by employers. Walsh says he's heard the same stories in other cities where people report wage theft, safety concerns and anti-union sentiments.

"I want any and every working American to understand, if they want to talk about the injustices happening to them on the job site, they can come forward and the Department of Labor is going to continue to fight on their behalf," he said. "No employer should be taking advantage of any employee in this country. No one should be underpaying people or threatening them with deportation — none of that should be happening in this country."

He says a $15 minimum wage, pathways to citizenship and protecting workers rights to organize are issues he and the Biden administration are working toward.

Walsh heard from several people, especially immigrants, who told him their immigration status caused them to be targets for victimization.

Rossangela Raxon was one of them. With the help of Program Coordinator Magda Orlander, who translated, Raxon said about 10 years ago, she worked with her husband and they weren't getting paid.

"I know that the Latino community is very, very exploited labor because a lot of the times companies will know about the immigration status of the worker and they will take advantage of that," she said. "And on top of that, one of the risks women — a lot of us immigrant women — faced in the workplace is sexual assault and sexual harassment. So many of us — because we need the work, we need to continue working — are unable to leave the situation ... and have to stay silent in the face of sexual harassment and assault on the job."

Walsh said his own parents immigrated to the United States from Ireland and he grew up in a labor family, later becoming the president of his local union.

"So it bothers me when I hear women being sexually harassed and having to go to work in a worksite that they're facing things that men don't face," he said. "That gets me angry, as well. I mean, I think that's something that we have to continue to fight and change on."

He also commended workers like Gandhi Merida, who spoke out against R & R Steel after Hispanic workers found out they were being paid much lower wages than others to do the same job.

"I want them to know that they're not alone in this, I want to thank them for their courage, and I want them to know that the more people that step up and tell us about the injustices that are happening to them on the job sites, the stronger we'll be," Walsh said. "They're laying down a foundation for the future workers."

In addition to the Biden administration buckling down on long-sought after changes to the minimum wage and union rights, Walsh said the recently proposed infrastructure packages are also meant to create a skilled workforce to build bridges, roads and other necessities.

"If you don't invest in American infrastructure by job training, then you're not gonna have skilled workers to be able to handle the jobs that are open. So that's what this administration is all about," he said.

Walsh visited several places in Ohio and Kentucky yesterday and today, and promoted President Joe Biden's infrastructure plans in Dayton last month.