President-elect Obama's choice to be labor secretary, U.S. Rep. Hilda Solis, D-Calif., is expected to advocate greater union influence in the workplace and more "green" jobs.
WASHINGTON — President-elect Obama’s choice to be labor secretary, U.S. Rep. Hilda Solis, D-Calif., is expected to advocate greater union influence in the workplace and more “green” jobs.
The post of U.S. Trade Representative will go to former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk, according to lobbyists who have discussed the matter with transition officials.
Solis, the 51-year-old daughter of a Mexican union shop steward and a Nicaraguan assembly-line worker, is in line to be the second Hispanic nominee in Obama’s Cabinet. Obama planned to announce her nomination today, said a labor official who spoke on condition of anonymity because an announcement had not been made yet.
The lone member of Congress of Central American descent, Solis would replace Elaine Chao, the only original member of President Bush’s Cabinet still in office.
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Unions, which contributed heavily to Obama and Democrats this year, expect Solis to be an advocate for them and for workers. They expect her to press for legislation that would force businesses to recognize union representation when more than 50 percent of a company’s eligible work force signs union cards, instead of waiting for secret-ballot elections.
Labor claims managers coerce and intimidate workers into rejecting unions in secret ballots at work. Employers say workers often are coerced by their peers to sign union cards and that a secret-ballot election is the only way to determine their true wishes.
“Unions are vital to the health and strength of our communities, and our workers are the bedrock of our economy,” Solis said in 2007 while advocating for the Employee Free Choice Act.
“In this day and age when the number of women and new immigrants is increasing in the work force, it is important that they become a part of the American fabric, and one of the ways is to be a member of a union.”
Solis’ father was a Teamsters shop steward in Mexico.
“We’re confident that she will return to the Labor Department one of its core missions — to defend workers’ basic rights in our nation’s workplaces,” said John Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO, the nation’s largest labor organization.
Business groups, ready to assume a more defensive posture during Obama’s administration, responded cautiously to the news.
“There’s a new sheriff in town, but they’ll still have to deal with the business community and they know it,” said Randy Johnson, vice president for labor issues at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “We would hope she will continue to support programs that help educate employers about voluntary compliance with the law rather than pursue heavy-handed enforcement,” he said.
Kirk, an early fundraiser for Obama, was a proponent of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)) and China’s entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO) while he was Dallas mayor. His appointment is likely to be announced today as well, the lobbyists said.
As the top U.S. trade official, Kirk would lead an office of 230 people responsible for negotiating global and individual trade agreements, pressing other nations to rescind barriers to exports and investment and litigating case at the World Trade Organization in Geneva.
Kirk, an attorney with the Dallas office of Vinson & Elkins, has little experience in the recent debates over trade and little stature in Washington or capitals around the world. He declined to comment when reached at his Dallas office Thursday.
During the election campaign, Obama criticized NAFTA and pledged to renegotiate it. He said he would take a hard line against what he labeled as China’s unfair trade and currency practices.
After working with Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen and the Texas government, Kirk was elected the first black mayor of Dallas in 1995 and vowed to make the city the “capital of NAFTA,” according to news stories at that time.
As mayor, he led a number of trade missions to Mexico to help Dallas companies expand commercial ties. He stumped for a free-trade agreement with Chile and signed a petition pushing Congress to approve legislation to clear the way for China’s entry into the WTO in 2000.
Information on Ronald Kirk provided by Bloomberg News.