Obama Appoints Workers' Advocate Hilda Solis to Head DOL

12-19-08, 4:23 pm

Announcing a new direction with respect to the rights of American workers and their economic security, President-elect Barack Obama appointed Hilda Solis, a member of the House of Representatives from California to head the Department of Labor.

The announcement won immediate and wide praise from the labor movement. Solis is a congressional sponsor of the Employee Free Choice Act, a law that would help workers join and organize labor unions more easily.

As a state legislator, Solis was instrumental in boosting her state's minimum wage and requiring state agencies to enforce labor laws, especially wage laws and health and safety standards.

During the announcement of this appointment, Obama signaled a dramatic departure from the Bush administration's economic policy and philosophy. Obama emphasized his administration's focus on the condition of workers rather than corporate bottom lines or stock market values as the primary determinant of the general economic strength of the country.

'Whenever I have been asked how I measure the strength of the American economy,' Obama stated, 'my answer is simple: jobs and wages. I know we will be headed in the right direction again when we are creating jobs, instead of losing them, and when Americans are gaining ground in terms of their incomes, instead of treading water or falling behind.'

Of Solis, Obama added, 'I know that Hilda will show the same kind of leadership as Secretary of Labor that she showed in California and on the Education and Labor Committee by protecting workers’ rights – from organizing to collective bargaining, from keeping our workplaces safe to making our unions strong.'

For her part, Solis made a powerful statement identifying herself as a daughter of the working class. 'As a daughter of immigrants,' she said, 'I learned at a young age the value of hard work, public service and commitment to family.' She stressed her belief in an America that rewards hard work and provides economic security for working families. This America is rapidly disappearing, Solis said.

Solis indicated that under her leadership, the Department of Labor would once again protect American workers by enforcing labor laws, strengthening labor unions, providing resources for training youth and displaced workers, and enforce and forging new anti-discrimination statutes.

Solis also projected that the Labor Department would commit to building 'green collar' jobs in order to create new job growth, secure the country's energy supply with alternative energy sources, and ensure economic security for working families.

In advance of the official announcement, labor leaders and activists expressed a resounding endorsement of Solis for the position.

Change to Win labor federation Chair Anna Burger said of Solis, '[She] “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.”

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said, '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.'

American Rights at Work executive Director Mary Beth Maxwell, who many had viewed as a frontrunner for the position, also said of Solis, she “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.”

See a video of the announcement here: