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Hilda Solis, new sheriff at the U.S. Labor Department

PIVOTAL TIME FOR UNION MEMBERS


<p>UAW President Ron Gettelfinger and Labor Secretary Hilda Solis.</p>
<p>Solis has increased her staff by 250 investigators to handle enforcement of wage and child labor laws.</p>
<p>PHOTO: U.S. DEPARTMENT OF LABOR</p>

UAW President Ron Gettelfinger and Labor Secretary Hilda Solis.

Solis has increased her staff by 250 investigators to handle enforcement of wage and child labor laws.

PHOTO: U.S. DEPARTMENT OF LABOR

With Hilda Solis as the new U.S. secretary of labor, America’s workers hope they will have a fighting chance for justice in the workplace.

The daughter of a former Teamster shop steward from Mexico and a United Rubber Workers assembly worker from Nicaragua has a familiar story.

She grew up in a modest neighborhood in La Puente, Calif., worked her way through undergraduate school and earned a master’s degree at the University of Southern California in 1981. In her last year of school Solis interned with the Carter administration.

“The Labor Department is back in business. … Yes, I think you can rest assured that there is a new sheriff in town,” Solis said in March at her first public speaking engagement as labor secretary, at a town hall meeting in Miami.

Since her swearing in, Solis has tackled several major issues in the Labor Department, including an investigation charging the department with mishandling nine out of 10 cases in the Wage and Hour division alone.

In addition, Solis has increased her staff by 250 investigators to handle enforcement of wage and child labor laws.

Part of her job will be working with Edward Montgomery, chosen in March by President Obama as director of recovery for auto communities and workers. A University of Maryland dean, Montgomery will work with the Labor Department on cooperative strategies between the union, corporations, government, foundations and others for an economic recovery plan targeting the hardest hit areas.

Solis is also signed on as a partner with new Energy Secretary Steven Chu to support the creation of environmentally green jobs. In March Solis and other officials toured Pennsylvania, an established training ground for energy-efficient technology which will receive $102.5 million from the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program.

Her new position includes working with the newly formed Middle-Class Task Force. And working families hope they can count on her support of the Employee Free Choice Act, which will restore workers’ freedom to form a union if a simple majority signs cards signaling their desire for a union. (See story on page 13.)

Solis has been a strong supporter of the Employee Free Choice Act. As labor secretary her support could be important as the battle heats up.

“This time in history will be pivotal for union members. We’re in the shadow of an economic challenge greater than what we’ve seen in decades. The middle class has been under attack for nearly a decade and, these times afford us the opportunity to inject real change in how we do business in America,” said UAW President Ron Gettelfinger.

“Hilda Solis’ nomination as labor secretary is a step in the right direction. We just have to keep marching forward.”

Solis’ life marks many firsts

Hilda Solis’ political career began in the California State Assembly, an office she held from 1992 to1994. In 1994 she was elected representative to the California State Senate and served until 2001, when she was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. Solis held this position until her February confirmation with the Obama administration.

Solis has many firsts in her life:

• The third child of seven, she’s the first in her family to attend college.

• She’s the first Hispanic woman to serve as a U.S. Cabinet secretary, and the first Cabinet secretary of Central American descent.

• In 2002 she was the first woman to receive the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award.