Obama Nominates Hilda Solis for Secretary of Labor

In a surprise move, President-elect Obama has chosen dark-horse candidate Rep. Hilda Solis (D-CA) as Labor Secretary. Solis’ selection will no doubt appease organized labor, which chose her to defeat pro-free trade incumbent Democratic Congressman Matthew Martinez (D-CA) in a primary challenge in 2000, and which contributed heavily to her re-elections since.

Solis has served as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for the 32nd District of California since 2001, and is currently a Senior Whip, as well as a Regional Whip, for Southern California. She is a member of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, where she is Vice Chair of the Environment and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee and a member of the Health and Telecommunications Subcommittees. She also serves on the House Committee on Natural Resources and the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. Prior to serving in Congress, she worked as a California State Senator from 1994-2000, and as a California Assembly Member from 1992-1994.

During her three terms in Congress, Solis voted along party lines 98.4% of the time. She is a staunch supporter of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) in particular and unions in general. Born into a union family, Solis is considered to be one of organized labor’s strongest proponents in the House of Representatives. She has received a near 100% rating by the AFL-CIO in terms of her pro-union voting record. In addition, she has marched with Andy Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union, in support of increased wages and benefits for janitors. In a press release, Stern has stated:

As someone who has pounded the pavement knocking on doors for Hilda Solis in her first upset campaign in California, I can tell you firsthand that this woman is about opening doors for millions of Americans who get up and go to work each day.

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney has voiced similar praise for Solis:

We're thrilled at the prospect of having Rep. Hilda Solis as our nation's next labor secretary. We're confident that she will return to the labor department one of its core missions - to defend workers' basic rights in our nation's workplaces. She's proven to be a passionate leader and advocate for all working families - in fact, she's voted with working men and women 97 percent of the time. The AFL-CIO looks forward to working with Rep. Solis as she charts new territory for our nation's working men and women. 

Solis is a member of the American Rights at Work Board of Directors. American Rights at Work is a pro-labor think tank that is strongly in favor of EFCA’s passage and champions workers’ rights and workplace safety issues. David Bonior, an early candidate for the Secretray of Labor job and the Chair of American Rights at Work--and a close advisor to President-elect Obama--said about Solis’ nomination:

I’ve worked with her for years in Congress and she sits on our Board of Directors – she’s a terrific leader who I know first hand will work tirelessly on behalf of America’s working families.

Solis’ record for supporting business interests is less than spectacular. She has garnered a 21% rating in 2003 by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, indicating a fairly anti-business voting record. 

She has consistently voted in favor of increasing the federal minimum wage. Solis has indicated she will continue to support a bill she co-sponsored, the Protecting America’s Workers Act (H.R. 2049), which increases penalties against employers for worker safety violations, enhances protections for whistleblowers, and mandates that employers pay for personal protective equipment. She is also in favor of greater OSHA funding to increase enforcement of workplace safety laws.

In terms of civil rights, Solis has supported the reintroduction of the Equal Rights Amendment and related bills promoting comparable work pay rules for women, and legislation prohibiting job discrimination based on sexual orientation. In the healthcare arena, Solis voted in favor of giving mental health benefits full equity with physical health benefits.

On the immigration front, Solis recently spoke out against the Bush Administration’s changes to the H-2A agricultural guest worker program.  In opposing the regulation changes, Solis claimed: 

There is no question that the guest worker program needs significant overhaul but slashing wages and reducing basic rights for the most vulnerable workers in our country, especially hardworking Latino farm workers, is not the answer. I look forward to working with the Obama Administration and the Democratic majority to find the best solutions to strengthen this workforce and protections afforded to them.

When nominated and if confirmed, Solis will certainly alter the direction and activity of the Department of Labor. Stay tuned!

Information contained in this publication is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or opinion, nor is it a substitute for the professional judgment of an attorney.