Obama Labor Secretary Nominee Is Outspoken Union Partisan

hilda-solisPresident-Elect Barack Obama’s cabinet nominations have caused observers across the spectrum to speak of his newfound “pragmatism” and “moderation.” But his choice for labor secretary, Rep. Hilda Solis, D-Calif., has very little about her that can be called moderate. Union officials like it that way.  Solis, a four-term Congresswoman whose district encompasses eastern Los Angeles County communities, is a vocal supporter of organized labor. And she writes like one, too. In a March 2007 article for the Leftist blog site, The Huffington Post, she proclaimed: “As the daughter of a union family – my father was a Teamster and my mother worked tirelessly for 25 years – I know that my seven siblings and I would not be where we are today without the wages and other protections my parents earned with the help of their union.” 


Statements such as these have top union officials happily brimming with expectations. AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney remarked: “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 voted with working men and women 97 percent of the time.” Anna Burger, chairwoman of the Change to Win labor federation, also expressed strong support. “Congresswoman Solis does not just work on behalf of workers; she is their unwavering and tireless voice,” she said. Andrew Stern, head of Change to Win’s largest union, the Service Employees International Union, also weighed in: “The daughter of two immigrant workers and union members…she will be a secretary of labor working men and women can finally count on to stand up and fight for them.” Credit the unions with backing up their words with money. According to the Center for Responsive Politics’ “Open Secrets” website, labor organizations have given Solis a combined $903,550 in campaign contributions, and have accounted for most of her political action committee (PAC) donations.


Congresswoman Solis, like Bush Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, is female and an “ethnic.” But the similarities pretty much end there. Chao is a conservative Republican who’s been affiliated with The Heritage Foundation. Solis, by contrast, belongs to the House Progressive Caucus and is a reliable ally of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. She’s voted accordingly, through 2007 compiling a lifetime 100 percent rating from the liberal nonprofit group, Americans for Democratic Action. She vigorously supported Senator Hillary Clinton in her presidential bid, but after Mrs. Clinton dropped out, she backed Obama, who had been seeking to shore up his support among Hispanics. Her nomination can be seen as an extension of this outreach.


But it isn’t just ethnicity that explains why Obama has tapped her for the job. Where Chao has sought to create as much as possible a level playing field between employers and unions, Solis seeks to put the unions, the incoming administration and the Democrat-controlled Congress in a high-comfort zone. She’s a co-sponsor of the misnamed Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), the unions’ top legislative priority for the last couple years. EFCA would force private-sector employers to recognize a union as the sole bargaining agent at a particular site if organizers can secure card signatures from at least 50 percent of potentially affected workers indicating a desire to join. As it is, this “card check” process has invited aggressive, even harassing tactics. If employers are forced into recognition at the 50 percent threshold, the secret ballot would become a virtual relic. This looming reality takes on an added importance given that card checks have become the primary means of winning representation. According to the Senate Democratic Caucus, “more workers form unions via card check than via secret-ballot elections.” In 2004, 375,000 workers were organized through card checks, with only 73,000 being organized through elections. And card checks are now successful roughly 75 percent of the time.


Another area where Hilda Solis appears to sharply depart from Elaine Chao is the relatively low priority she is likely to place on combating union corruption. In her nearly eight years in office Secretary Chao has spearheaded efforts to strengthen her department’s anti-corruption efforts. This includes expanding investigations staff and establishing rules requiring greater transparency in the reporting of annual union revenues and expenditures. Solis, by contrast, would be working for an administration that views corruption as at worst a minor irritant. The apparent giveaway is the AFL-CIO’s representative on the Obama Department of Labor transition team, Deborah Greenfield. Greenfield’s first inspection stop was the Office of Labor-Management Standards (OLMS), the DOL agency that oversees union financial disclosure requirements. She recommended a realignment of “the allocation of budgetary resources” from OLMS to other departmental agencies. Even more telling, argued Greenfield, the secretary should “temporarily stay all financial reporting requirements that have not gone into effect” and “revise or rescind the onerous and unreasonable new requirements,” the latter category including the expanded LM-2 form and the new T-1 form. To the AFL-CIO, transparency ought to be a responsibility for employers more than unions.                  


Perhaps most disturbing is that Solis, the daughter of Mexican and Nicaraguan immigrants, is an aggressive booster of mass immigration. She supports granting amnesty for workers illegally here, a policy that the AFL-CIO formally adopted early in 2000. And this is nothing new for her. In 1996, while a California state senator, she made this rather astonishing statement: “We are all Americans whether you are legalized or not.” Apparently, Ms. Solis can’t grasp that a nation-state, by its nature, rests on the principle of territorial exclusion; that to obliterate distinctions between legality and illegality of residence is to render a nation virtually meaningless. It is worth mentioning that as labor secretary, Solis would be in charge of overseeing the issuance of labor certifications. If she certifies employers whom she knows are hiring illegal immigrants, she would be breaking the law. Ironically, Solis is a sponsor of a House bill to honor the late United Farm Workers founder, Cesar Chavez. Her intent is to “authorize the Department of the Interior to study lands important to the life of Chavez for possible inclusion in the National Park System” – in other words, to name a National Park after him. What she ignores is that Chavez, a natural-born U.S. citizen, was a staunch opponent of illegal immigration.

In a campaign speech before the AFL-CIO in Philadelphia this past April, Barack Obama remarked: “We’re ready to play offense for organized labor. It’s time we had a president who didn’t choke saying the word ‘union.’” Obama got his wish: He’s going to be president next month. Now he’s found a quarterback to head the Labor Department offense. But before Hilda Solis takes office, she deserves some tough questions at her confirmation hearing. It’s up to some intrepid senators to ask them. (Townhall.com, 12/18/08; American Spectator Online, 12/19/08; Wall Street Journal, 12/22/08; other sources).