President-Elect Obama’s selection for the top post at the Labor Dept., Rep. Hilda Solis, a U.S. congresswoman from California, is a cause for celebration by unions.
In making the announcement Dec. 19, Obama said the California Democrat, a renewable energy advocate who was critical in the passage of a green jobs training bill in Congress, would play a key role in developing policies to fulfill his stated goal of creating some 2.5 million jobs.
Labor advocates describe Solis as a strong union supporter with a decidedly pro-labor voting record. “We’re ecstatic,” says Terry O’Sullivan, general president of the Laborers International Union of North America. “When it [comes to] progressive legislation that improves the lives of working men and women, she’s been with us on every vote.”
Tom Owens, spokesperson for the Building and Construction Trades Department, describes Solis’s voting record as “solid across the board,” from supporting Davis-Bacon to being one of the sponsors of the Employee Free Choice Act, organized labor’s top legislative priority for 2009.
Solis has represented California’s 32nd District in Congress since 2001. Her key achievement in Congress was the passage of the Green Jobs Act in 2007, which authorized up to $125 million for national and state job training programs to promote “green collar” jobs in construction and renewable energy development. She currently sits on a variety of energy-related committees in the House, the Select Committee on Energy Independence on Global Warming. As a state legislator, she was pivotal in the passage of a minimum wage hike in California in 1996.
Construction employer groups say that Solis will be faced with the daunting challenge of getting more people back to work at a time when jobs are scarce. Brian Turmail, spokesperson for the Associated General Contractors, says that the Solis’ first priority will likely involve putting policies in place “to put as many Americans to work as soon as possible.” With an incoming administration focused on enacting the stimulus package being debated in Congress, Solis “will have to act aggressively” to make sure that the investments made in the stimulus package create more jobs, he says.
Paul Meyer, executive director of the California chapter of the American Council of Engineering Companies, describes Solis as “a very active” legislator who is a “strong supporter of infrastructure and green building.” But some industry groups are wary. Geoff Burr, vice president of government affairs for Associated Builders and Contractors, says he hopes that Solis, if confirmed, works “to create jobs that will help grow our economy and provide transparency at the department, as opposed to supporting politically divisive legislation like the Employee Free Choice Act.”