Obama picks union-backer for Labor post

Rep. Hilda L. Solis (D-El Monte), a Congressional Hispanic Caucus leader considered to be one of the most reliably pro-union voices in the House, is President-elect Barack Obama’s choice to head the Labor Department, a Democratic official said Thursday.

Obama is expected to announce the selection at a news conference today in Chicago.

Solis, 51, would be the third Latino member of Obama’s Cabinet, a measure of diversity that has garnered praise from this fast-growing slice of the electorate.

After Obama nominated New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson to be his Commerce secretary, some Latino officials complained that they were being shut out of the most prestigious Cabinet posts. Richardson at one time had been rumored to be in line for secretary of State, before Obama offered him the Commerce slot.


Rep. Joe Baca (D-Rialto) had cautioned that Obama’s legislative agenda might face roadblocks unless more Latinos were installed in top positions.

Since then, Obama has said he will nominate Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.) as secretary of the Interior, and now Solis as Labor secretary. Prominent Latino officials are now praising the new Cabinet’s makeup.

In an interview Thursday, Baca said: “We’re glad he listened to our voices and listened to the Hispanic community that came out and delivered for him on election day. It’s a great day for the Hispanic community.”

Solis did not return calls for comment.

Elected to Congress in 2000 from a district that includes swaths of East L.A. and the San Gabriel Valley, Solis has consistently voted in support of labor’s interests. A congressional voting analysis conducted by the AFL-CIO showed that she voted with organized labor 100% of the time last year.

She supported measures increasing the minimum wage, making it easier for workers to organize and preserving a ban on privatizing jobs at the Labor Department. Other labor groups that study congressional voting patterns gave her a 100% rating in 2005 and 2006.

J.P. Fielder, spokesman for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, suggested that Solis’ voting record is overly weighted in labor’s favor. “The business community recognizes that economic growth has happened in a number of non-unionized states. She has sided with the AFL-CIO in 97% of the votes that she has cast on the Hill,” he said.

Solis also serves on the board of directors of American Rights at Work, which advocates for the right to form unions and bargain collectively. The chairman is former Rep. David Bonior of Michigan, who was also in the running for the Labor secretary post.


“I’m very excited,” said Maria Elena Durazo, executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor. “This is an extraordinary moment for all women, but especially for the Latino community.”

Durazo said Solis would be effective in the job because she is a “coalition-builder” who “doesn’t walk in thinking everything has to be a battle with business.”

Before winning her congressional seat, Solis spent 18 years in the Legislature in Sacramento. In Solis’ hometown of El Monte, officials are hoping that her move to Labor secretary will give the local economy a much-needed boost.

El Monte officials cut more than $2 million from the city’s budget Wednesday and laid off more than 80 part- and full-time workers during a special meeting. The city had long ago banked on the auto sales industry, and now that is flagging.


Councilwoman Emily Ishigaki, 63, said she had high hopes for Solis, whom she has long worked with as a fellow member of the El Monte Business and Professional Women.

“I hope she can devise a way to bring jobs back to America,” Ishigaki said. “I sure hope it means notice for the San Gabriel Valley.”

Past colleagues of Solis describe her as a formidable politician. Former Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg, one of the Los Angeles political heavyweights who backed Solis in her first foray into politics -- a race for the Rio Hondo College board -- said the congresswoman was a proven coalition-builder but could be “tenacious.”

“I think that her support for labor is just rooted in a deep conviction,” Hertzberg said. “In my judgment, it’s important to have a Labor secretary who has a strong sentiment for working folks.”


Once Solis vacates her congressional seat, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will have 14 days to call a special election. One candidate is likely to be state Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles).

Romero replaced Solis in the state Senate, and Romero’s district encompasses the congressional district.

Romero, herself a strong labor advocate, made her name in the Legislature by holding tough oversight hearings into California’s troubled prison system.

“I have deep roots, and I would certainly give it every consideration,” Romero said of a potential race for Congress. “Definitely, I am interested.”




Times staff writers Dan Morain, Hector Becerra, Phil Willon and Evelyn Larrubia contributed to this report.





Age: 51


Hometown: El Monte

Experience: U.S. House of Representatives, 2001-present; California state senator, 1995-2001; California assemblywoman, 1993-95; member, Rio Hondo College Board of Trustees; budget analyst, Civil Rights Division of the Office of Personnel and Management; employee, Office of Hispanic Affairs at the White House.

Education: Bachelor’s degree, Cal Poly Pomona; master’s degree, USC.

Family: Married.


Source: Associated Press