Union leaders welcome Solis choice as labor secretary

WASHINGTON (PAI)--Union leaders welcomed the choice of pro-worker Rep. Hilda Solis (D-Calif.) as Labor Secretary in the incoming Democratic Obama administration. If confirmed by the Senate, Solis would replace anti-worker GOP Bush Labor Secretary Elaine Chao.

Solis, a veteran legislator from Los Angeles and a resident of El Monte, would also be the third Hispanic member of Obama’s Cabinet, joining New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, named Commerce Secretary and Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar nominated as Interior Secretary.

One labor source said Solis’ name was put forward by Service Employees President Andrew Stern, whose union -- along with the Change To Win coalition -- endorsed Obama’s presidential candidacy long before the AFL-CIO did. SEIU is the biggest union in CTW.

But leaders ranging from CTW Chair Anna Burger to AFL-CIO President John Sweeney to RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum all welcomed the Solis appointment.

So did former House Minority Whip David Bonior (D-Mich.), now chair of pro-labor American Rights At Work, and ARW Executive Director Mary Beth Maxwell. Both had been on lists circulated for the job, with Pride at Work enthusiastically pushing Maxwell. Bonior dropped out of the running to endorse her. Both praised Solis, who sits on the group’s board.

Maxwell called Solis 'a great choice” who “brings the expertise and leadership required to a department in desperate need of reform and will champion common sense policies like the Employee Free Choice Act to restore balance and create an economy that works for everyone.” Bonior, citing his work with Solis since she entered Congress in 2001 -- he was there until 2004 -- called her “a terrific leader who I know first-hand will work tirelessly on behalf of America’s working families.”

Sweeney said the AFL-CIO is “thrilled at the prospect of having Solis as our nation's next Labor Secretary. We're confident that she will return the 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 Solis as she charts new territory for our nation's working men and women.”

Appelbaum called Solis “outstanding” with “a life-long commitment to working people. Solis, like Obama, “knows first-hand how unions can lift poverty wage workers into the middle-class,” he added.

“Since the RWDSU is deeply involved in organizing immigrants working in retail, food processing, poultry and other industries, I'm particularly thrilled by the prospect of having a Labor Secretary who shares our outrage over the abuse immigrant workers face each day,” he added.

Burger said Solis, a daughter of Mexican and Nicaraguan immigrants, “has never forgotten where she comes from, and how she got to where she is today.”

Solis “would make the Labor Department an agency that once again protects and promotes the well-being of America’s working men and women. President-elect Obama promised to make government work for working Americans and the appointment of Hilda Solis would make that promise real,” Burger added. Solis “fought to provide working families with a safe workplace, a healthy environment, a decent standard of living, affordable health care and equal opportunity. Solis does not just vote on behalf of workers, she is their unwavering and tireless voice. She has one of the strongest pro-worker voting records in Congress and is a sponsor of the Employee Free Choice Act,” Burger pointed out.

On her congressional website, Solis touts her support for raising the minimum wage -- in California as a state senator in 1996 and in the House after coming to D.C. --and creating “green jobs.”

That includes backing the 10-year project to rebuild U.S. manufacturing via “green industry” plants, creating millions of jobs while moving towards energy independence, and pushed mostly notably by the Steel Workers, the Communications Workers and their Blue-Green Alliance with environmental groups.

“I am a strong supporter of workers' rights and cosponsored the Employee Free Choice Act. This vital legislation strengthens the right to organize and opposes any effort to dismantle the 40-hour work week and the overtime requirements provided under the Fair Labor Standards Act,” she added.

And Solis said she inserted a $125 million green-collar job training program into the energy bill the then-Republican Congress sent to Bush in 2007. But that money was only authorized; how much was actually doled out is unclear.

The only dissent, so far, to Solis came from the so-called Competitive Enterprise Institute, part of the radical right coalition. It carped that union campaign finance committees are top contributors to Solis’ campaigns. Under Bush’s Labor Secretary, Elaine Chao, the Labor Department was ordered to harass, punish and weaken unions. CEI did not say whether the radical right would instruct GOP senators to filibuster against Solis.