Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, the first Latina to lead a federal agency, is resigning. In a statement announcing her resignation, Solis touted her agency’s work overseeing the federal stimulus plan, worker training programs, and other employment initiatives during her four years in office. “Over the last four years, Secretary Solis has been a critical member of my economic team as we have worked to recover from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression and strengthen the economy for the middle class,” President Obama said in a statement.
AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka also praised Solis. “[Solis] brought urgently needed change to the Department of Labor, putting the U.S. government firmly on the side of working families,” Trumka said in a statement. “We hope that her successor will continue to be a powerful voice both within the Obama administration and across the country for all of America’s workers.”
Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis went on CNBC Friday morning to discuss today’s strong jobs report, which found unemployment falling to 7.8 percent. However, one host, Carl Quintanilla, was more interested in talking about the conspiracy theorists who claim the Bureau of Labor Statistic is fixing the jobs report to help President Obama win the election.
Quintanilla insisted on asking Solis to defend the BLS against conspiracy charges three separate times during the interview. When Solis attempted to turn the conversation to a more substantive discussion, Quintanilla asked her to respond to former GE CEO Jack Welch, who tweeted that Obama cooked the jobs report to distract from the presidential debate. The CNBC host praised Welch, who was caught manipulating GE’s accounting data as CEO, as someone who “knows a bit about how economic data is created”:
QUINTANILLA: A lot of people do not believe the 7.8 number. They believe that somehow BLS fixed this to coincide with the election cycle. What is Labor’s response?
SOLIS: I’m insulted when I hear that. Because we have a very professional civil service organization, where you have top top economists at work at the BLS. They’ve been doing these calculations, these are our best trained and best skilled individuals working at the BLS. It’s really ludicrous to hear that kind of statement. [...]
QUINTANILLA: We can go through all the talking points we do every month, Madame Secretary. Congress needs to do more, but I want to read you one tweet from Jack Welch who used to run General Electric, a man who I think most people would argue knows a bit about how economic data is created…what do you say to him?
SOLIS: I would say I have the highest regard for our professionals who do the calculations in the BLS. They are highly skilled economists trained in this area.
At the end of the interview, Quintanilla interjected to insist that “large sections of the country don’t believe the data.”
Last week, the Department of Labor (DOL) released an advertisement featuring DOL Secretary Hilda Solis informing viewers that “every worker in America has a right to be paid fully whether documented or not.” The video is meant to promote a government hotline which any worker can call to report wage theft. However, Rep. Steve King (R-IA) believes the ad is an “explicit invitation for illegal immigrants to bring the resources and power of the Department of Labor to bear against American employers.” In a damning press release, King accuses the DOL of engaging in a campaign to protect “illegal aliens” via its anti-wage theft campaign:
“Whether they are using the Department of Labor to support illegal immigrants’ allegations against America’s employers, or the Department of Justice to invalidate Arizona’s illegal immigration enforcement law, this Administration continues to use the limited resources of the American taxpayer on behalf of illegal aliens,” said King. “It is shameful that Secretary Solis has to be reminded that her primary duty is owed to the American people, and not to those who have illegally entered our country. The Obama Administration needs to realize that the American people have a right to have their immigration laws enforced.”
King fails to note that, technically, the DOL is simply following the laws on the book. The National Employment Law Project (NELP) points out that, “[f]ederal courts and state and federal agencies have consistently held that core labor standards, including the right to organize, to a minimum wage, and to protection from discrimination, cover all workers, regardless of immigration status.” In other words, it’s not the DOL’s job to enforce the nation’s immigration laws — that’s under the purview of the Department of Homeland Security.
The reasoning behind the separation of responsibilities isn’t just a bureaucratic division of power, it actually protects American workers. Shortchanging unauthorized workers hurts everyone who is employed in the given industry where the exploitation is taking place. Unscrupulous employers who hire and abuse undocumented labor drive down wages and working conditions for all the Americans who work alongside them. They also put honest businesses who want to abide by immigration and labor laws in a position in which they are forced to compete on an uneven playing field. And if DOL were required to enforce immigration laws, many — if not most — of those abuses would go unreported.
If anything, by defending abusive employers, King is encouraging more illegal immigration. Mark Krikorian, who is no fan of legal or illegal immigration, has rightly pointed out in the past that “[t]he more it costs to hire illegal aliens, the more employers might turn to legal workers.” Conversely, when businesses think they can get away with saving a buck by shortchanging undocumented workers, they’re more likely to do so. Jennifer Gordon of Fordham Law School has asserted that “millions of undocumented immigrants accept whatever wage is offered. They don’t protest out of fear of being fired or deported.” By letting immigrants know that they won’t be deported simply for reporting abuse, the DOL is going a lot further in combating illegal immigration than it would by simply turning a blind eye to labor violations. Which begs the question of whether King is more interested in defending American employers than in protecting American workers.
By Andrea Nill Sanchez on Dec 17, 2009 at 11:29 am
Last week, Politico featured a piece by right-wing pundit Pat Buchanan suggesting that rather than talking about a second stimulus package, tax credits, or public works projects, lawmakers should be seriously considering an immigration moratorium during these hard economic times. A few days later, former Rep. Virgil Goode (R-VA) authored an op-ed calling for a moratorium on legal immigration until “Americans are back on their feet.” ThinkProgress sat down with Department of Labor (DOL) Secretary Hilda Solis yesterday to discuss what a ban on immigration, coupled with ramped up deportations, could mean for the U.S. as a whole:
I think we’d have a big shortage of workers out there and I think as we move through this decade, we’re going to see people retiring from different types of jobs…so who is going to help fill those positions?
You would probably see towns shutting down, communities shutting down. You’d see second and third industries being affected – restaurant industries, service sectors industries where immigrants tend to work and be found. It would also impact the current ability to put food on your table because if you don’t have a certain number of people out there doing jobs that others wouldn’t want to do, then how are we going to provide the sustenance we need for all our American families?
What Buchanan, Goode, and all the others advocating an immigration moratorium fail to note is that, because of the recession, both legal and undocumented immigration are at record lows. And while it’s true that many immigrants work side-by-side American workers, that doesn’t serve as credible evidence that there is a significant number of American workers who have pursued those jobs and lost a job opportunity to an immigrant. In fact, the Migration Policy Institute (MPI), has found that “despite the controversy it generates, illegal immigration has no significant impact on the overall U.S. economy.” MPI has also pointed out that, as of November 2009, immigrants are facing higher unemployment rates than American-born workers due to the fact that they are more likely to work in sectors that rise and fall with the business cycle.
As Solis points out, immigration policies should also take into account the future needs of an aging population. University of Southern California professor Dowell Myers recently pointed out that “as baby boomers become seniors, immigrants can fill the roles vacated by boomers shifting modes within the economy.” If the U.S. cuts future immigration, it could be in for a rude awakening when the recession is finally over. In an event at the Center for American Progress yesterday, Solis and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said today that comprehensive immigration reform would do a better job of strengthening the U.S. economy by improving pay, benefits, and working condition for all workers, along with adding billions of new tax dollars to the nation’s coffers.
Unemployment probably isn’t Goode and Buchanan’s only concern. In 2006, Buchanan called for an immigration moratorium to preserve the dominance of the white race in America. “If we do not get control of our borders, by 2050 Americans of European descent will be a minority in the nation their ancestors created and built,” wrote Buchanan. That same year, Goode also warned that “we will have many more Muslims in the United States if we do not adopt the strict immigration policies that I believe are necessary to preserve the values and beliefs traditional to the United States.”
Late last week, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis issued a warning letter to department employees after office posters celebrating Gay Pride Month were defaced or removed. ThinkProgress obtained the Solis e-mail sent to the department’s entire staff. Solis, who helped found the House’s Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Caucus, wrote she was “particularly pleased to have the opportunity to be the first Secretary in the department’s history to publicly recognize Pride Month”:
“It appears, however, that some members of the Labor Department team have a different view, as it has come to my attention that most of the posters have been continually defaced or removed. On several occasions, even the poster frames have been torn completely off the elevator walls. [...]
I do not believe these actions represent the majority of our employees, so I refuse to let this situation define us. But I do want to make myself absolutely clear: Respect for others is non-negotiable at the U.S. Department of Labor.“
Solis added the Gay Pride posters will be immediately replaced if they are damaged or removed. Full e-mail below: Read more
Rep. John Tierney (D-MA), co-author of the Green Jobs Act, has announced the creation of the Green Jobs Caucus to support this “essential component of our country’s economic recovery.” In 2007, Rep. Hilda Solis (D-CA) and Tierney wrote the act to authorize “quality job training programs in the renewable energy and energy efficiency fields.” It was passed into law as part of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. Funding for green jobs training followed the election of President Obama, who designated Rep. Solis as his Secretary of Labor. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, signed into law on February 17, 2009, appropriates $500 million for green job training.
Secretary Solis applauded the formation of the Green Jobs Caucus:
Training American workers in the renewable energy and energy-efficiency industries will provide economic security for our middle-class families while reducing our nation’s dependence on foreign fossil fuels. I was pleased to author the Green Jobs Act with Congressman Tierney, and I believe the Green Jobs Caucus can play an important role in Congress.
Founding members of the Green Jobs Caucus joining Rep. Tierney include Phil Hare (D-IL), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Doris Matsui (D-CA), Jim McGovern (D-MA), and Henry Waxman (C-CA).
Today, the Senate voted 80-17 to confirm Hilda Solis as Labor Secretary. The vote is a defeat for anti-worker conservatives, who have been stalling her nomination since Obama nominated her on Dec. 19. Responses from the AFL-CIO, SEIU, and UNITE HERE.
Jason Rosenbaum at the Seminal writes, “What’s more, given her strong progressive bona-fides and her vote in the House for the Employee Free Choice Act, we can safely say that the first battle over passing the Employee Free Choice Act has been won. I think it’s safe to expect strong support for unions and working families from Secretary Solis, and that includes supporting Free Choice.”
The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee today voted to send Hilda Solis’s nomination for Labor Secretary to the full Senate for approval. Sens. Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Tom Coburn (R-OK) cast the two “no” votes. It took 61 days since her nomination for Solis to get a committee vote, compared to Bush’s Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, who was confirmed in just 18 days. The widely praised Solis was blocked by Senate Republicans for her progressive views supporting American workers.
Below is the statement from SEIU President Andy Stern: Read more
After weeks of Republicans “burying her in paperwork,” the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee was finally prepared to vote on Hilda Solis’s nomination for Labor Secretary today. However, Politico now reports that the scheduled vote has been postponed:
Rep. Hilda L. Solis’ nomination vote has been delayed by the Senate committee in charge of vetting her for the secretary of labor position in President Barack Obama’s Cabinet.
The delay was announced moments after USA Today reported that Solis’ husband had recently paid off $6,400 in tax liens on an auto shop he owns in Los Angeles.
Yesterday, Pat Garofalo predicted that Solis was the right wing’s newest target after Tom Daschle withdrew his nomination for Secretary of Health and Human Services. Today’s Progress Report has more on Solis’s nomination here.
At his daily press briefing, Robert Gibbs expressed confidence that Solis’s confirmation will move forward as planned. Noting that Solis’s husband failed to pay a “business tax,” Gibbs said, “We’re not going to penalize her for her husband’s business mistakes.”
Yesterday, President Obama’s nominee for Health and Human Services Secretary, Tom Daschle, withdrew after it was revealed he failed to pay over $100,000 in taxes. In the wake of Daschle’s departure, the right-wing is gunning for another Cabinet victim — Rep. Hilda Solis (D-CA), the nominee for Labor Secretary. The Heritage Foundation writes, “Hilda Solis: The Next Tom Daschle?” Some more examples:
National Review: While everyone is looking at Tom Daschle’s tax problems…a new issue has arisen concerning another Obama cabinet nomination, that of Rep. Hilda Solis to be Secretary of Labor.
The Weekly Standard: A seemingly innocuous letter sent to the Clerk of the House of Representatives last Thursday by President Obama’s Secretary of Labor nominee Hilda Solis raises serious and troubling legal questions about her nomination and apparent violation of House ethics rules.
RedState: [I]f we are lucky we may just see the appointment of this hardcore union shill go down in flames.
According to The Hill, Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY) “has questioned whether Solis had done lobbying work while she was both a House member and an official at a pro-labor group, American Rights at Work” (ARW). Solis’ confirmation has been indefinitely delayed, and today Obama nominated Ed Hugler, deputy assistant secretary for operations at the Labor Department, to serve as acting secretary.
And as for the “conflict of interest” that the right wing is highlighting? Solis wasn’t paid for her activities with ARW, and as the Washington Independent pointed out, her role was well-known and ceremonial:
What would be the charge? Either that she participated in lobbying by being a leader with ARW, or that she erred by originally not mentioning this job in her disclosure documents. Two reasons this might not work: Solis’ role in ARW was well-known and ceremonial (it’s on their Website), and no congressman has hinted that he/she would file a complaint that could make a splash but not be deemed frivolous and politically motivated.