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Labor Secretary Marty Walsh meets with Metro Atlanta job advocates

DECATUR, Ga. (ATLANTA NOW NEWS AT 10) -- The demand for higher wages and the right to organize were front and center today in Decatur on Tuesday, during a visit from U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh.

Demands for better wages, better working conditions and jobs for the unemployed have grown louder over the pandemic. As businesses shut down, so did the Georgia Department of Labor, and those doors are still closed. However, several GDOL career centers reopened in October 2021. Now, labor advocates are afraid the doors of collective bargaining and the right to organize will also close, particularly impacting women and Black workers.

Walsh heard from labor advocates during a roundtable hosted by the Advancing Black Strategists Initiative (ABSI).

"It's not about a conversation anymore. It's about action," Walsh said. "We have to be real intentional about the work we're doing moving forward."

"Being able to have wages, benefits and working conditions protected for every worker only comes when we find our commonality," said John Taylor, an ABSI committee member.

"When we are bigger and we have a larger voice, we have more impact, which serves democracy, it serves our citizens," said Yolanda Pickstock with the American Federation of Government Employees.

One of the biggest concerns is low wages. "We see that it's largely in the South where we continuing to have a less than $15 minimum wage," said Seitu Hart, a Georgia film labor advocate.

They discussed strategies and solutions. Walsh says it's about creating pathways to good paying jobs.

"It's partnerships with organized labor where organized labor is strong. It's partnerships with organized labor where organized labor is strong is weak. It's partnership with community organizations and groups and putting aside the political differences people have and talking about the sheer common goal of moving forward and improving people's lives. That's how we move forward," he said.

"Whether it's a workplace, a community, you name it. That's what it requires for democracy, and in the U.S., collective bargaining is the pathway to getting there," said Jobs With Justice Executive Director Erica Smiley.

David Webster, the director of organizing for the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades District Council 77 says he's optimistic. "With Mr. Walsh being in office, we've gotten more contacts with more people at the Department of Labor. We're actually having more conversations," said Webster.

Walsh discussed what is being done on Capitol Hill to help. "The president and I filed a bill to raise the national minimum wage to $15 an hour. It went to the House of Representatives, waiting for the Senate. Hopefully, they take some action on it. The president signed an executive order to mandate federal contracts at $15 an hour," he said.

He's also urging employers to allow workers to organize. Walsh also spoke at the Retail, Wholesale Department Store Union's 24th Quadrennial Convention at the Westin Peachtree Plaza in Atlanta.

*This article was updated to indicate GDOL career centers re-opened in October 2021.

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