Senate Holds Confirmation Hearing on Labor Secretary-Designate

By Sam Hananel | January 9, 2009 | 5:20 AM EST

Rep. Hilda Solis (D-Calif.), President-elect Barack Obama's designate as Labor Secretary, is introduced at a news conference in Chicago on Dec. 19, 2008. (AP File Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Washington (AP) - Hilda Solis, President-elect Barack Obama's pick for labor secretary, has made no secret of her plan for more aggressive enforcement of the agency's role in protecting workers' rights.
The California congresswoman was to appear Friday before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee to tell lawmakers how she would lead a department that Obama says he wants to "once again stand up for working families."
Solis, the daughter of a Mexican union shop steward, has won widespread praise from union officials who expect her to step up oversight of wage and hour laws, job safety regulations and rules covering overtime pay and pay discrimination.
Organized labor also views Solis as a determined advocate for its top priority this year -- legislation that makes it easier for workers to form unions by doing away with secret ballot elections.
Business groups, already spending millions of dollars to campaign against the Employee Free Choice Act, are concerned about Solis' support for the measure.
Despite some wariness in the business community over her liberal record -- she has a 97 percent rating from the AFL-CIO -- Solis is expected to win easy confirmation.
She should receive a warm reception from the committee's chairman, Massachusetts Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, who in 2000 presented her with the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award for her pioneering work on environmental justice issues in California.
Spokesman Anthony Coley said Kennedy considers Solis a champion for workers who "need a strong advocate to protect their rights and help them learn new skills and find new opportunities."
Solis was the first Latina elected to the California Senate, where she led the battle to increase the state's minimum hourly wage from $4.25 to $5.75 in 1996.
She won her congressional seat in 2000 after taking on a Democratic incumbent who had lost the support of organized labor. During eight years in Congress, Solis has made protecting the environment and helping immigrants two of her top priorities.
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