Labor Secretary Tom Perez departed from his prepared remarks in his speech Tuesday at the AFL-CIO convention in Los Angeles to repeatedly claim that it was "not God's will" that the liberal agenda on wages, immigration and workplace safety not be enacted into law.
The speech was the first major public address by Perez since his nomination was approved by the Senate in July after a protracted struggle with GOP lawmakers. The former labor and civil rights lawyer had previously been a top deputy to Attorney General Eric Holder.
Perez's scripted remarks concluded with a call to rise to the challenge of raising up the middle class. Perez made similar points, but in an intensely personal – and religious – context.
The remarks delivered onstage concluded:
I mentioned that my dad died when I was a kid. That was a bad year. It was a bad year for Richard Nixon, 1974. It was a bad year for Tom Perez and family in 1974 – for different reasons, to state the obvious.
But let me tell you a little story about my mom because that really animates how I think about this. If you had taken a survey of my family, Jan. 1, 1974, and said, "One of your parents is going to die," there would have unanimity in our family that it was going to be my mother, because she had chronic problems with her health. She had to go to New York City to have some major surgery in February or March that year. She continued to have chronic problems. Shortly after my dad died unexpectedly, my mom went back into the hospital.
What sustained her during that challenging summer, and during months and years ahead, was her faith. Every night I would go to bed: "Goodnight, Mom. See you tomorrow." There is a saying in Spanish; she said it every night: "Si Dios quiere." What "si Dios quiere" means is "if it's God’s will." She had a great faith that animated her and helped all of us during difficult times.
But, you know, as I grew older and older, I must confess that I started to take issue with what I used to call the "si Dios quiere" mentality. Because as I worked professionally doing civil rights work and doing labor rights work, I grew to conclude that it is not possibly God's will that people working a 40-hour
It is not possibly God's will that people showing up in the coal mine were not going to be able to see their children graduate and not get to their grandchildren’s wedding.
It is not possible that it is God's will that women are making 77 cents on a dollar.
It was impossible to me that it is God's will that 11 million people are living in the shadows, immigrants who should be in the sunshine with the passage of comprehensive immigration reform.
It was impossible to me that we just simply had to expect and accept the fate of Alan White and so many others suffering from illness as a result of unsafe workplaces.
And so, you what? I don't think it is God's will. These challenges that I have described are human-made and they will be fixed by humans. They will be fixed by Americans. (Voice rises) People in this room. People in this presidential suite. People across America who will come together.
Because I know that God told me that we are our brother's keeper! We are our sister's keeper! The labor movement is our brother's keeper! The labor movement is our sister's keeper!
And as we work together, we will build a better America! As we work together, we will bring the middle class to thrive again! As we work together, we will make sure that everybody has the ladder of opportunity to climb! We will make sure that those rungs between that ladder are short, that you climb them! That no matter who you, no matter where you came from, no matter who you love, you can make it here in America!
That is why I am optimistic about America, because I have seen it work! I have seen your stick-to-itiveness! I have seen your spirit!
I know this president! He is here is for you! We may not agree on everything, but we always talk it through. We always resolve it.
Because our values are the same. Our values are about growing a better middle class! Growing a better America! We will do that together, so help me God! Thank you!