February 26th, 2011
06:49 PM ET
WASHINGTON (CNN) – An impassioned Labor Secretary Hilda Solis rallied Democratic party members Saturday to tell voters "elections do matter" as she gave a detailed – and political – response to the Wisconsin union fight.
Solis delivered her remarks before the Democratic National Committee winter meeting, in the same hotel where conservative activists held their annual convention two weeks ago. But the message was decidedly different, as Solis accused Republicans of turning back the clock on workers' rights.
The Labor Secretary told the crowd cuts in benefits isn't the issue in the dispute playing out in Wisconsin and other states. "We know, we know that many states are facing tough budget decisions. We know that there is room for shared sacrifice. Shared sacrifice. And we've seen our brothers and sisters in public employee unions willingly give up… fair share and to negotiate. They have all offered to negotiate in good faith to help their states stay afloat, even in these tough times."
But she claimed, "the governors in Wisconsin and Ohio aren't just asking workers to tighten their belts, they're demanding they give up their uniquely American rights as workers", Solis said, later adding public employees "want to be at the table. But it's not what the other party wants."
As she began her remarks on the union situation, Solis said, "People now have to be reminded, the American public needs to know, and we need to be out there reminding them, elections do matter. They really do."
The political rallying cry came as some liberals and labor activists had questioned why President Obama hadn't visited protesters in Wisconsin, especially in light of a 2007 campaign line. Then-candidate Obama told a crowd in South Carolina "understand this, if American workers are being denied their right to organize and collectively bargain, when I'm in the White House, I'll put on a comfortable pair of shoes myself, I'll walk on that picket line with you as president of the United States of America."
On Thursday White House spokesman Jay Carney, asked about why he wasn't making such a trip, said, the President has "an ability to be heard when he speaks, and he spoke to the situation in Wisconsin and his views on it last week. And I'll leave it at that."
It was a more personal message delivered by Solis to the DNC rally, noting she may be biased because her parents were union members when she was growing up, her mother working at a toy factory and her father becoming a shop steward.
"These are our neighbors and friends and family," she said. "They teach our kids, they risk their lives to keep us safe in our communities. And all they're asking for is to be treated with respect and dignity. And guess what, folks? All they're really asking for, these workers, is the opportunity to sit down at the table, like grown-ups, and to work together to solve problems. And that's what collective bargaining is all about."
"The fight is on," she said in a closing line to encourage Democrats in campaign efforts, "We help the embattled states right now where public employees are under assault. And we work together and get going."
Off mic as Democratic chairman Tim Kaine praised her speech, Solis could be heard saying, "I had to let it out."
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