Senators from both parties showed enthusiastic support for Rep. Hilda Solis, President-elect Obama’s choice to be Labor Secretary, at the California Democrat’s confirmation hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on Jan. 9. Although committee Republicans said they might disagree with Solis on key issues, such as the scope of the Davis-Bacon Act, several signaled probable support her confirmation.
“I intend to vote for you,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah). The panel’s ranking GOP member, Michael Enzi (Wyo.), said that even though some Republicans and Solis might have “very different views, I do not believe that fact precludes individuals from working constructively together.”
But Enzi and others expressed some frustration about Solis’ reluctance to directly answer questions about controversial topics such as the Employee Free Choice Act, a bill that would make it easier for unions to organize nonunion job sites. “I would hope that we will have the time to know what your opinion is” before a confirmation vote, said Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.).
Organized labor strongly backs Solis, who has built a solidly pro-union record in the California Legislature and then in the U.S. House, where she co-sponsored the Employee Free Choice Act, organized labor’s top legislative priority. Chris Chafe, executive director of the Change-to-Win union coalition, says he has “deep trust in her approach to justice and fairness for working families.”
Solis also is known for her support for job training and programs to promote “green collar” jobs. In 2007 she shepherded to House passage a bill authorizing funds for green-jobs training. At the hearing, she said creating more jobs, particularly green jobs, and promoting training to fill those positions would lead her agenda. “First and foremost, if I am confirmed, my priority will be to uphold the goals of the Dept. of Labor and get this economy going,” she said.
She also favors revamping and expanding training programs under the Workforce Investment Act and providing increased training for Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans.
Construction industry groups have been reluctant to criticize Solis openly. Instead, they have found things they like, such as her backing for training and green building initiatives. But Kevin Dayton, director of government relations for the Associated Builders and Contractors of California, calls Solis a “100% supporter of the union agenda” and that she had a “poor record with ABC” while in the state legislature.
Change to Win’s Chafe thinks Solis will sail through the Senate. “I really felt like there was nothing that would approach what I would deem as a challenge to her confirmation,” he says.