Solis Confirmed as Secretary of Labor

In an 80-17 vote on Feb. 24, the Senate confirmed Rep. Hilda Solis as labor secretary in a development well received by many organized labor and workplace health and safety advocates.

President Barack Obama nominated Solis on Dec. 19. Her confirmation was delayed for weeks in part because of Republicans’ concerns over her involvement with the pro-labor American Rights at Work and her history of being a pro-union advocate.

“The delay of Rep. Solis’s nomination for partisan and ideological reasons was overcome by the grassroots support of millions of Americans who are struggling and desperately need a secretary of labor who will be their voice,” said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney in a statement.

Sweeney added that Solis will “fight to improve skills development and job creation programs, including development of ‘green collar’ jobs. She will work to assure that workers get the pay they have earned and that they work in safe, healthy, and fair workplaces. She’s ready to address the retirement security crisis and will work hard to protect every worker from job discrimination, regardless of race, sex, veteran status or disability.”

Trippler: It’s About Time

In response to Solis’s confirmation, Aaron Trippler, director of government affairs for the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA), told EHS Today, “It’s about time.”

“It seems that once again, occupational health and safety has been falling by the wayside,” he said. “We’re glad to see finally that she got confirmed and hope that she moves quickly on finding someone for the assistant secretary slot.”

Trippler also considered, however, that the current state of the economy may overshadow workplace health and safety, at least for the time being.

“Unfortunately, I think the first thing she’s going to take a look at is the employment side of things,” Trippler said. “I hope I’m not right. I hope they look at everything, because I think worker health and safety is really, really important in this stimulus package.”

Trippler also reiterated his hope that the OSHA head position would be filled quickly. He anticipated that a shortlist of names for this position may emerge within the next month.

“Toxic” Issues

J.P. Fielder, director of media relations for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, pointed out that the Chamber neither supported nor opposed Solis’s nomination and is ready to work with her.

“She’s the head of an important department we’re obviously going to work with,” Fielder told EHS Today. “I think despite some differences in the past, there are certainly opportunities going forward.”

Fielder added that Solis and the Chamber have held different views on the Employee Free Choice Act, which would allow workers to unionize more easily by signing a card or petition. Solis had been a supporter of this legislation.

“We hope she would recognize some of the pro-labor issues that are being pushed out there, how detrimental, how toxic they could be to the economy,” Fielder added, referring to the Employee Free Choice Act. “We certainly recognize she supported that in the past, but … she supported it when the economy was in a very different state,” he explained. “The Chamber still vehemently opposes the issue, though.”

A New Era

Solis served four terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, representing the 32nd Congressional District of California. Prior to her election to Congress, Solis served 8 years in the California state legislature.

“As a former member of Congress, Secretary Solis no doubt brings an ability to encourage the entire occupational safety and health community to come together to invigorate the commitment to worker safety with ideas from all stakeholders,” said American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) President Warren K. Brown. “ASSE looks forward to working with Secretary Solis and supporting her leadership.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also commended Solis’ confirmation. "The Senate's confirmation of Secretary Hilda Solis begins a sorely needed new era at the Department of Labor,” she said in a statement. “Working together, President Obama, Secretary Solis, and the Congress will once again put the Labor Department on the side of working people who deserve fair wages, safe workplaces, job training to compete and win in the global economy, and the right to organize and bargain collectively.

"Secretary Solis is uniquely qualified to lead the Labor Department in this new era due to her long record of fighting for better wages, protecting worker safety and securing their pension,” Pelosi said.

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