Secretary of Labor-designate Hilda Solis with United Farm Workers co-founded Delores Huerta
Of all Obama's cabinet picks, most of which I have been critical of, his very best selection has been Rep. Hilda Solis (D-CA) as Secretary of Labor. Maybe because she was the one real "progressive" in the bunch, Obama chose her last.
Solis is the daughter of poor Latin American immigrants and has been instrumental in drumming up support in the House of Representatives for the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), the new labor backed bill to make it easier for workers to organize unions. Obama promised during the campaign that passing EFCA would be one of his major priorities in his first year. As a result labor unions nationwide worked their tails off for the Obama-Biden ticket.
While in the California legislature Solis led the effort to increase the state's minimum wage in 1996. Once elected to Congress in Washington she wrote a measure that authorized $125 million for work force training programs in areas such as energy efficiency retrofitting and green building construction.
Of course, with a 97% voting record on labor issues, not everyone in America was thrilled about the Solis selection for Labor Secretary. Mark Mix, president of the anti-union National Right to Work Committee, called the Solis nomination "a slap in the face to America's independent-minded workers." Translation: Big corporate interests don't like her.
There could be another problem for Solis. She supports labor's position on renegotiating US trade agreements to ensure worker, safety, and environmental standards are properly addressed. Obama's pick for US Trade representative, former Dallas mayor Ron Kirk, supports NAFTA and would likely see Solis as a rival on these issues.
Just days ago the Houston Chronicle reported, "Kirk also favors giving Congress fast-track authority to approve other trade agreements, a provision opposed by organized labor. The process gives the executive branch the authority to negotiate and write trade agreements without consulting Congress. It sets a 90-day deadline for Congress to hold a vote on an agreement and strips Congress of the power to change the deal."
Mark Stoller, writing at Open Left, said just before Obama's inauguration, "I could see Labor becoming a department that has to build its own power, since Obama's not exactly going to welcome that perspective to the seat at the table unless Solis forces her way in. As an example, Obama has introduced his 'economic team' and met with it many times, without even having chosen a Labor Secretary, a clear sign that to him, the perspectives of organized labor are somewhat peripheral to his thinking on the economy."
But there is a bigger problem. Solis has not yet been confirmed by the Senate and it appears that the Republicans are holding up her nomination as the first shot in the labor-big business war over EFCA.
According to one labor official, the unions are waiting for word from the Obama team that they can start making a fuss about the hold-up, but they have gotten no feed-back from the administration. “People are just frustrated because they are not getting a clear signal of when and where to fight.”
Even the pro-corporate New York Times is wondering what is going on with the Solis hearings. In a recent editorial the newspaper wrote, "If there was ever a time the nation needed a strong secretary of labor, this is it. And yet, for the past several days, at least one Republican senator has been using a parliamentary procedure to hold up the confirmation of Congresswoman Hilda Solis (D-California), President Obama’s choice for labor secretary. The 'hold' tactic delays a full vote by the Senate on the nomination, pending, well, pending what?"
Personal reflection: In 1978 when I quit college to go to work for the United Farm Workers Union (UFW), just before graduating at the University of Florida, it was Delores Huerta (pictured above on the right) who gave me my job interview at the UFW hall in Avon Park, Florida. I passed and went on to work for the UFW for two years organizing fruit pickers throughout the state. I was the note taker for the UFW in negotiations between the union and Coca Cola (Minute Maid orange juice) that were led by Delores.