Multiple news outlets are reporting that White House Labor Secretary Hilda Solis will be stepping down before the beginning of President Obama’s second term.
“Leaving the department is one of the most difficult decisions I have ever made, because I have taken our mission to heart,” wrote Solis in a letter to her staff. “As the daughter of parents who worked in factories, paid their union dues and achieved their goal of a middle-class life, and as the first Latina to head a major federal agency, it has been an incredible honor to serve.”
“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,” said President Barack Obama in a statement. “Her efforts have helped train workers for the jobs of the future, protect workers’ health and safety and put millions of Americans back to work.”
Solis, a veteran of the House and the California state legislature, was not one of the more high-profile members of President Obama’s cabinet. However, she was well-liked by the AFL-CIO, which reportedly lobbied hard to make her Labor Secretary—the last cabinet position to be filled by the Obama transition team. As head of the labor department, Solis fought to step up enforcement of wage violations, and enact new workplace regulations governing affirmative action and pay disclosure.
However, she was also the country’s top labor official during a period which many union leaders and activists found disappointing. In particular, organized labor was stymied by Congressional Democrats’ failure to pass the Employee Free Choice Act in 2009.
AFL-CIO Presidnet Richard Trumka nonetheless praised Solis in a statement. “Labor Secretary Hilda Solis brought urgently needed change to the Department of Labor, putting the U.S. government firmly on the side of working families,” he said. “Under Secretary Solis, the Labor Department became a place of safety and support for workers. Secretary Solis’s Department of Labor talks tough and acts tough on enforcement, workplace safety, wage and hour violations and so many other vital services.”
In her parting letter, Solis said that her Labor Department had much to be proud of:
In the past four years, more than 1.7 million people have completed federally-funded job training programs; of those, more than one million have earned industry-recognized credentials. In addition, Labor Department investments in our community colleges have expanded their capacity to provide local, flexible, employer-specific job training to millions of Americans, and transformed these institutions into engines of economic growth.
Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, we were the steward of more than $67 billion for unemployment insurance benefits, job training and placement, and worker protection. With ingenuity and integrity we ensured that these monies were carefully targeted to maximize job creation so that working people received the help they needed and deserved.
We also played an important and active role in crafting regulatory actions to implement key aspects of the Affordable Care Act. Our work will help make President Obama’s vision of a health care system that works for America a reality for millions of people.
We have helped businesses big and small see the value of hiring returning military service members, and have fostered innovative efforts to help women and homeless veterans.
And I am particularly proud to say that, as a result of our enforcement efforts, we have saved workers’ lives.
Calendar year 2011 saw the fewest-ever mine fatalities. Fatalities in general industry and construction are at historic lows.
Because of our work, more people are receiving the wages they are owed. Last year we conducted the largest number of investigations in recent memory, collecting the most back wages in our history (more than $280 million on behalf of more than 300,000 workers denied their rightful pay, overtime or leave benefits). In these recoveries, what may seem to some as “small change” makes a huge difference for those who live paycheck-to-paycheck. In addition, our enforcement and informal resolution programs resulted in the recovery of almost $5 billion dollars for retirees and their families.