Senate confirms Solis as labor secretary

Labor Secretary Hilda Solis

Obama pick vows to revamp employer-leaning DOL

THROUGHOUT HIS CAMPAIGN, President Obama promised to choose someone who recognizes that it is the Department of Labor, not the Department of Management, to head that agency. And he has done just that by appointing Hilda Solis as the next secretary of labor. Solis grew up in a union family and has been a champion of workers throughout her more than 15 years in public service, in California and in Congress.

Some conservative lawmakers had threatened to block a vote on her confirmation, because they oppose the Employee Free Choice Act, which she supports. (The Senate voted to confirm her Feb. 24.) If enacted, EFCA will alter the way workplaces are organized, allowing workers to make key decisions now reserved for management.

During her confirmation hearings, Solis said her vision of the Labor Department is “rooted in who I am.” She said, “My father was a Teamsters shop steward who regularly told us about the opportunities his union association would bring to help secure our family a place in America’s middle class.”

She pointed to four areas the Labor Department will address under her leadership: improving skills development and job creation programs, including development of “green-collar” jobs; assuring workers get the pay they have earned, working in safe, healthy, and fair workplaces; addressing the retirement security crisis; and protecting every worker from job discrimination, regardless of race, sex, veteran status, or disability.

Her record indicates that she will be a strong advocate for workers as secretary of labor. In her four terms in Congress, Solis co-authored the Green Jobs Act, which later became part of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. The Green Jobs Act authorized $125 million for workforce training programs targeted to veterans, displaced workers, at-risk youth and individuals in families below 200 percent of the federal poverty line.

Solis replaces Bush appointee Elaine Chao, who was often at odds with labor unions. Chao presided over a department that reduced the number of mine safety officers, cut OSHA’s budget, and substantially increased paperwork and reporting requirements for unions. Chao opposed EFCA as well as ergonomic rules intended to protect workers from repetitive strain injuries. In the closing months of the Bush Administration, Chao’s department came under fire for misleading Congress when it used faulty information to justify contracting out the work of federal employees.

Antiunion groups like the National Right to Work (NRW) Legal Defense Foundation fear Solis will undo many of Chao’s rule-making efforts that have helped businesses at the expense of workers and unions. In a Dec. 18 article on NRW’s Web site, the group referred to Solis as “union-label Hilda Solis.”

While that bit of sarcasm may bring smirks to the faces of union foes, the moniker should raise smiles in labor circles.