Labor Secretary Marty Walsh met with companies on Friday to discuss how the private sector can improve job quality, as a record number of employees in the United States are quitting their jobs largely in search for better opportunities.
Walsh met with a handful of companies across different industries to highlight how they are creating jobs and sustaining their workforce through investment in training, higher wages, benefits and flexibility, according to the Department of Labor.
Friday's panel included representatives from the American Sustainable Business Network, global shipping company UPS and retailer Eileen Fisher, as well as the employee-owned energy company Sustainergy and BA Auto Care -- a family-owned business in the mid-Atlantic.
The panel launched the private sector-focused work of the Biden administration's "Good Jobs Initiative," which is led by the Labor Department.
Speaking about the initiative in his opening remarks, Walsh compared its work to the work of other historic programs, like the New Deal, Social Security and unemployment insurance.
"This is an important conversation. Our workforce and our economy, certainly, had been through a historic disruption over the last two years due to the pandemic. Both workers and businesses are rebuilding and reevaluating," Walsh said, later adding, "We're experiencing a historic recovery and creating an economy in record numbers for people that left all the cities around America, urban and rural and suburban. People are coming back to work. People are looking for new opportunities. It's making people reevaluate exactly where they were in their life and what opportunities are for them in the future."
The initiative was started earlier this year to improve job quality and job access, establishing a broad framework across the federal government to inform workers of their rights -- including their right to collectively bargain, engage employers in improving jobs to retain workers and deploy federal agencies to support the plan.
Walsh said in an earlier statement to CNN that the work of the initiative "speaks directly to what workers are telling us -- that improving the quality of jobs is an economic imperative."
"By directly engaging with businesses across all industries, we're uplifting best practices to recruit and retain workers in the current labor market. Patterns of work in America are changing, and the Department of Labor is here to support workers and companies through those changes," he added.
Friday's event took place after a strong March jobs report showed people are coming off the sidelines to rejoin the labor market and workers are leaving their jobs for opportunities that better serve their needs. Data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics released last week showed that along with 11.5 million job openings in March (the highest level since the data series began in December 2000), a record 4.5 million workers also quit their jobs.
The number of quits increased most significantly in the professional and business services sector, as well as construction. But in spite of the record number of job departures, hiring still outpaced quits in every sector. And experts broadly contribute employees' exits to the potential for better opportunities.
"These businesses are talking about how their business models center job quality and support workers and their communities and how they have succeeded because of it," a Labor official told CNN ahead of Friday's event, underscoring how the panel is convening "in the moment that we're in with our labor market" where employers may find they need to adopt these practices to remain competitive.
The Labor Department is also planning another meeting related to the Good Jobs Initiative later this summer to bring together industry, as well state, local and nonprofit organizations to discuss how to create partnerships to support jobs, the official said.
Along with the partnerships with the private sector and public education efforts to inform workers of their rights, the official said a large portion of work of the initiative has focused on the implementation of the bipartisan infrastructure law, providing guidance to federal agencies on jobs created through new infrastructure investments.
"We have trillions of dollars that we invest and we need to be more strategic about how those investments support our goal of good jobs," the official said. "We want family-sustaining wages. We want folks to feel empowered and respected on the job. And we want equitable access to those jobs."