A Secretary of Labor for Workers

The proud daughter of a Teamster took a big step on Friday toward becoming President Obama's secretary of Labor. California Congresswoman Hilda Solis testified before the Senate committee that will vote on whether she should head the Labor Department.

Solis promised that she would work hard every day to make sure that middle-class families don't lose hope.

We can believe that promise.

A Jan. 9, 2009 LA Times profile of Solis tells the story of how she fought against sweatshops as a freshman California state senator.

According to the Times, in 1995:

"Authorities raided an El Monte building fenced by razor wire. There, 72 Thai workers toiled 18 hours a day in slave-like conditions, stitching garments that were to be sold in shopping malls.

"Solis held high-profile hearings, called garment manufacturers to Sacramento to explain themselves and pushed for heavier enforcement of laws against sweatshops."

She contributed $15,000 of her own campaign money to fund a successful movement to raise the minimum wage in California.

Most important for a Secretary of Labor, she believes strongly that people should earn living wages, work in safe environments and have the opportunity for a college degree.

Solis' father, Raul, worked at the Quemetco battery plant in the City of Industry and met her mother, Juana, at a citizenship class.

The couple own the La Puente tract home where Solis grew up with two brothers and four sisters -- and where, when the wind shifted, they could smell the Puente Hills Landfill.

"They came with that hope -- esperanza -- of coming to a country that would allow their children to prosper," Solis said recently. "I was born here. But I still have that notion that my parents have instilled in me, that they want a better life and they know that there's opportunities here for us."

Sen. Ted Kennedy, speaking in a strong voice, said the crowds inside and outside the hearing room showed "how much we admire the nominee."

Eight years earlier, Kennedy had awarded her the John F. Kennedy Profiles in Courage award for her fight for workers' rights and environmental justice.

This is not an ordinary hearing, because we do not live in ordinary times. American families are suffering in ways we haven't seen in many years. And the crisis is growing worse every day.
As secretary of Labor, Hilda Solis will return the agency to one that monitors and enforces worker protections. That is change we can believe in.