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Obama Said to Name Latina Congresswoman as Labor Secretary

December 18, 2008
Related Topics: Partnership, Immigration, Labor Relations, Latest News
President-elect Barack Obama is poised to name Rep. Hilda Solis, D-California, as the next secretary of labor on Friday, December 19, according to published reports.

Her likely appointment is drawing praise from labor organizations that say she will be a champion of worker rights and a strong advocate for a bill that would facilitate unionization.

Solis, 51, was a co-sponsor of the Employee Free Choice Act. The bill, the top priority of organized labor for the next Congress, would allow workers to form unions when a majority sign cards authorizing the formation of a bargaining unit.

Under current law, companies can demand a secret-ballot election supervised by the National Labor Relations Board. The measure also would enforce mandatory arbitration for first contracts and substantially increase penalties against employers who impede organizing activity.

The Service Employees International Union posted an excerpt from a Solis blog item about the bill that was originally published on the Huffington Post in March 2007.

“Unions are vital to the health and strength of our communities, and our workers are the bedrock of our economy,” Solis wrote. “Unionized workers earn 30 percent more than non-unionized workers, and 80 percent have health insurance, as opposed to just 49 percent of non-union workers.”

In the same post, she touted unionization as a way for immigrants to strengthen their economic standing. “One of the ways to ensure that these new workers are skilled and valued members of the work force system is to join a union,” Solis wrote.

She would be the third Hispanic appointed by Obama to a Cabinet position. Solis’ congressional office would not confirm or deny that she had been selected by Obama.

An immigration advocate hailed the choice. Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, an immigration group in Washington, said that the labor secretary would be at a focal point of reform efforts—from ensuring strong enforcement of labor standards to encouraging low-wage workers to join unions.

Solis’ appointment is “another indication that immigration reform will be a high priority for the Obama administration,” Sharry said in a conference call with reporters.

Since being elected to Congress in 2000, Solis has not served on the House committee that deals with workplace law. Earlier in her political career, she chaired the Industrial Relations Committee in the California Senate. While in that position, she led the effort to increase the state’s minimum wage from $4.25 to $5.75 an hour in 1996, according to her official biography.

Solis was the first Hispanic woman elected to the California Senate, where she served from 1994 through 2000. She previously was a member of the California Assembly from 1992-94. She currently serves a U.S. House district that is 62 percent Hispanic and includes a part of Los Angeles and portions of several outlying areas, including East Los Angeles.

The daughter of immigrants, Solis comes from a family of union members. Her father was in the Teamsters and her mother was a manufacturing worker in Nicaragua.

Her background and her work in public office demonstrate that she understands the challenges workers face, according to union leaders. The AFL-CIO gives her voting record a rating of 97 percent.

“From the streets of Los Angeles where she marched with the janitors who were fighting for jobs with dignity that can support a family through SEIU’s Justice for Janitors campaigns, to the halls of Congress where she has been an outspoken supporter of healthcare rights for all, a livable minimum wage, and workers’ right to come together for a voice on the job, Hilda Solis has never backed down from the good fight to make the American Dream available to all,” SEIU president Andy Stern said in a statement.

—Mark Schoeff Jr.


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