Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, Champion of the Working Class


Rep. Hilda Solis (D-CA) is all smiles
Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis is all smiles at the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing earlier this month.

After weeks of stalling on the part of the Republicans, the full US Senate voted to confirm Hilda Solis as the Secretary of Labor. The 80-17 vote officially ends the eight years of a business oriented department and shifts the balance of power back to the working class and labor unions. Now, with Secretary Solis at the helm, we can feel more confident that the Department of Labor will protect and promote union interests and that the Labor Movement will remain strong, especially in this time of economic uncertainty. In fact, I am reminded of how much the election of a Democratic President and appointment of a strong, progressive woman as Secretary of Labor effected our country similarly during the height of the Great Depression.

In 1932, the country rallied behind a governor from New York who made a pledge: a New Deal for the American People. After taking office, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt acted swiftly on many fronts. This included what can arguably the most import Cabinet appointment in the history of the United States. President Roosevelt tapped his longtime friend Frances Perkins to become Secretary of Labor. Perkins’ name into the history books immediately as the first woman in the Cabinet, and thus the first to enter the Presidential Line of Succession. However, Frances Perkins mark on history did not end there. Over the course of the FDR Administration, it was Secretary Perkins who set the tone.

Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins guided the New Deal, whether it was advising FDR (left) or supporting Collective Bargaining rights of Pennsylvania Steelworkers (right, with hat on shaking hands)
Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins guided the New Deal, whether it was advising FDR (left) or supporting Collective Bargaining rights of Pennsylvania Steelworkers (right, with hat on shaking hands)

It is she who convinced President Roosevelt not send federal troops to San Francisco to stop a Longshoremens’ strike. History now remembers this as the San Francisco General Strike of 1934, which led to the unionization of all the ports on the West Coast. Also in 1934, Secretary Perkins was touring steel mills in Pennsylvania when she asked the town of Homestead for meeting space. When the mayor refused to allow such a meeting on city property, Perkins found an alternative venue and held the meeting anyway, informing the workers of their Collective Bargaining rights.

Frances Perkins was also a force in the Capitol as well. In fact, you can link most of the main pieces of legislation that ended the Great Depression to the Secretary of Labor. From the Fair Labor Standards Act, which established minimum wage and overtime standards, to the revolutionary Social Security Act of 1935, just to name a few, the name Frances Perkins is written all over the New Deal. It is also a name which you see each time you enter the Department of Labor, which is housed in the Frances Perkins Building. Not to put all of this pressure on the incoming Secretary of Labor, but for the United States to climb out of the depths of this recession, Hilda Solis must become our Frances Perkins, the voice of the working class.

President-elect Barack Obama looks on as his nominee for Secretary of Labor, Representative Hilda Solis (D-CA), talks to the media.
President-elect Barack Obama looks on as his nominee for Secretary of Labor, Representative Hilda Solis (D-CA), talks to the media.

In December, the president-elect nominated then-Representative Hilda Solis (D-CA) to join his Cabinet as Labor Secretary. That’s when the right wing circled the wagons, hoping to shoot down the chances of  having Secretary of Labor that has long been a supporter of unions. After seeing Cabinet Member after Cabinet Member pass through confirmation, it finally came time for Secretary of Labor. The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) heard the testimony of Hilda Solis in early February. After numerous delays, the committee approved the nomination by voice vote and sent the confirmation to the Senate Floor. Members of both parties praised Solis. “Hilda Solis comes from a working family herself so she understands how the troubled economy is hurting average Americans. American workers deserve to have her voice and her leadership as their Secretary of Labor, and I’m pleased that our committee approved her,” said Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), Chairman of the HELP Committee. Ranking minority member Senator Michael Enzi (R-WY) added,  “I look forward to working with her in her new Cabinet position as Secretary of Labor and her staff on the this and the many other labor and economic issues facing our country.”

The full Senate voted in favor to confirm on February 24, and the vote included a majority of the Republican caucus voting for the confirmation.

Full Senate Vote for the Confirmation of Hilda Solis as Secretary of Labor

Now that we can officially say Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, the initiatives are simple…Employee Free Choice Act, revamping the National Labor Relations Board, increase the minimum wage. These are just some the issues that will come across Secretary Solis’ desk in the coming weeks and months. I am confident that under her leadership, this country will once again flourish as it has in the past- under the strength of the middle class and working families. I am proud to call Hilda Solis Secretary of Labor, and look froward to a brighter future for the Labor Movement. I have no doubt Hilda Solis will be today what Frances Perkins was to our grandparents- a Champion.