- Former Democratic Member of Congress
- Former Member of the Progressive Caucus
- Worked in the White House Office of Hispanic Affairs during the Carter administration
- Was appointed U.S.Labor Secretary by President Barack Obama
Hilda Solis was born in Los Angeles on October 10, 1957. Her father was a Teamsters Union shop steward of Mexican heritage, and her mother an assembly-line worker from Nicaragua. Solis earned BA in political science from California State Polytechnic University in 1979, and a master’s degree from the University of Southern California two years later.
In 1980, President Jimmy Carter’s administration hired Solis as an intern in the White House Office of Hispanic Affairs. The following year, Solis worked briefly as an analyst in the civil rights division of the Office of Management and Budget. She soon left this post, however, because of her distaste for the policies of the newly elected Republican president, Ronald Reagan.
Solis relocated from Washington, DC to the West Coast and became director of the California Student Opportunity and Access Program. In 1985 and again in 1989, she was elected to the board of trustees of the Rio Hondo Community College District. In 1991 she became Los Angeles County Insurance Commissioner, a politically appointed position.
Giving voice to her commitment to defending the rights of illegal immigrants, Solis, at a 1996 conference about a Latino voter-registration project in Los Angeles, stated, to loud applause: “We are all Americans, whether you are legalized or not.”
On October 18, 1997, Solis, along with state senator Diane Watson and a number of other political figures and social activists, attended a “Show Us the Living Wage Jobs” rally in Los Angeles. There, Solis and her fellow activists promoted Congressman Matthew Martinez’s Job Creation and Infrastructure Restoration Act, which proposed to use $250 billion in federal funds for the establishment of union-wage jobs rebuilding infrastructure (e.g., schools, hospitals, libraries, public transportation, highways, and parks). Martinez had previously introduced this bill in 1995 at the the request of the Los Angeles Labor Coalition for Public Works Jobs, whose leaders were all supporters or members of the Communist Party USA.
During her time in the California state senate, Solis fought to raise the minimum hourly wage for workers from $4.25 to $5.75. She also was heavily involved in the “environmental justice” movement, which sought to pass legislation preventing projects and industries that were heavy polluters from being based disproportionately in low-income and nonwhite communities.
In 2000 Solis was elected to represent California’s 31st District in the U.S. Congress, a district consisting mostly of working-class Latinos (50%) and Asians (20%)1 In that 2000 campaign, Solis drew strong support from such entities as the Communist Party USA, EMILY’s List, the League of Conservation Voters, and the Sierra Club. She also received massive financial and tactical support from labor unions. For instance, unions staffed her office with some 260 volunteers who made phone calls and knocked on doors in Solis’s behalf. At her post-election victory speech in November 2000, Solis acknowledged: “I wouldn’t be here, were it not for my friends in the labor movement.”
That support from organized labor would continue to benefit Solis throughout congressional career, which ended in 2009. Indeed, during her eight years in the House of Representatives Solis received some $904,550 in campaign contributions from labor-union members, leaders, employees, and Political Action Committees. During those same eight years, Solis received a 97% rating from the AFL-CIO, to go along with 100% ratings from both the AFSCME and the SEIU.
Upon her election to the House of Representatives, Solis joined—and became an officer of—the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Fellow Progressive Caucus member and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi gave Solis a seat on the powerful Energy & Commerce Committee and made her the ranking Democrat on its Environment and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee.
From April 11-14, 2001, Solis was in Cuba for unspecified purposes. The trip cost $1,214.50 and was financed by the William C. Velasquez Institute. In December 2006, Solis returned to Havana along with Rep. Jim McGovern and eight other congressional Democrats to meet with Cuban foreign minister Felipe Perez Roque and other government officials.
In the wake of 9/11, Solis proposed a $300 tax rebate for all low-income workers in the U.S., regardless of their citizenship status. Moreover, she called for the federal government to spend $16 billion to help illegal immigrants who had lost jobs in the hospitality industry (which was crippled by 9/11). “It’s not enough,” Solis lamented, “but we have to take what we can get.”
Rep. Solis also sponsored a resolution honoring labor icon Dolores Huerta, whom she once lauded as “my conscience, and … the conscience for many of us.” On another occasion, Solis sponsored legislation authorizing the U.S. Department of Interior to “study lands important in the life of Cesar Chavez for possible inclusion into the National Park System.”
In 2005 Solis was a keynote speaker at the Democratic Socialists of America‘s national “Twenty-First Century Socialism” conference in Los Angeles, along with such notables as Peter Dreier and ACORN chief organizer Wade Rathke.
In 2007 Rep. Solis sponsored the Healthy Places Act, designed to “establis[h] a process to incorporate all levels of government in community planning with the goal of designing communities which promote healthier living.” According to the Capital Research Center, “The bill would set up an interagency working group, fund research grants, and make health assessment part of every community’s planning process. Companion legislation was introduced in the Senate by then-Senator Barack Obama.”
Also in 2007, Solis endorsed Senator Hillary Clinton for president and agreed to co-chair of the Clinton campaign’s Environmental and Energy Task Force as well as its National Hispanic Leadership Council. When Mrs. Clinton’s White House bid eventually fell to that of Democrat rival Barack Obama in 2008, Obama, seeking to strengthen his appeal to Hispanic voters, aggressively sought Solis’s support. Solis enthusiastically agreed to serve on the Obama campaign’s National Latino Advisory Council, along with such notables as Xavier Becerra, Henry Cisneros, Raul Grijalva, Luis Gutierrez, Eliseo Medina, Linda Sanchez, and Nydia Velazquez.
In July 2008, Solis, lamenting that women “are the ones that are mostly discriminated against,” urged her fellow House Members to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act (PFA), which called for harsher penalties on businesses deemed guilty of paying female employees less than similarly qualified male workers.
Solis was also a promoter of the so-called “Green” agenda, opposing measures that would allow businesses (or consumers) to access affordable natural resources such as oil and gas. Indeed, she consistently voted against drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, against offshore oil drilling, and against the construction of any new oil refineries, though none had been built anywhere in the U.S. since 1976. Because of these and similar votes, the League of Conservation Voters dubbed Solis an “outstanding advocate for the enforcement of environmental laws, preservation of open space, and environmental justice.” The Sierra Club, for its part, created the “Hilda L. Solis Environmental Youth Leadership Award,” characterizing Solis as “an inspiration and … a national champion for environmental justice and environmental health.”
Throughout Solis’ tenure in Congress, she was backed strongly by such unions and activist groups as the AFSCME, the American Association for Justice (formerly known as the Association of Trial Lawyers of America), EMILY’s List, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and UNITE HERE!
For an overview of Solis’s congressional voting record from 2001 through 2008, as per key pieces of legislation covering a wide array of issues, click here.
On December 19, 2008, President-elect Obama nominated Solis for the office of Labor Secretary. In response to the nomination, SEIU executive vice president Eliseo Medina lauded Solis as “a champion for the rights of immigrant workers” who would undoubtedy help “fi[x] our broken immigration system.”
Solis was evasive in her answers to a number of questions she was asked during her subsequent Senate confirmation hearing. For example, when a Republican senator asked her whether she could be expected to continue the policy of allowing non-union firms to compete with union firms for government construction contracts, Solis replied: “That is something that I am not able to speak to at this time, but would like to review and come back to you.” Another Republican asked Solis whether she supported the 60-year-old provision of the Taft-Hartley Act allowing individual states to pass “right to work” laws giving workers the freedom to choose not to join a labor union. She responded, “I don’t believe that I am qualified to address that at this time. That is not something that I have personally discussed with the President-elect.”
The Senate confirmed Solis as Labor Secretary on February 24, 2009.
Lamenting that worker rights were “under assault,” the new Labor Secretary vowed that she and the Obama administration would “make the strongest case possible for the Employee Free Choice Act” (EFCA), a measure that, if passed, would deprive workers of the right to vote for or against the unionization of their workforce by means of a secret ballot. Thus organizers would be able to more easily intimidate workers into forming new unions.
Another of Solis’s chief priorities as Labor Secretary was to promote the creation of so-called “green collar jobs” aimed at developing alternative energy technology.
In May 2010 Solis was a guest speaker at the Blue Green Alliance‘s annual “Good Jobs, Green Jobs” conference. Other noteworthy speakers included Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Congressman Keith Ellison, Senator John Kerry, Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, and Colorado Governor Bill Ritter Jr.According to Solis, “Every worker in America has a right to be paid fairly, whether documented or not.” In June 2010, she initiated a taxpayer-funded advertising and outreach campaign directed specifically toward illegal aliens. In a video pitch, Solis said: “I’m here to tell you that your president, your secretary of labor and this department will not allow anyone to be denied his or her rightful pay…. If you work in this country, you are protected by our laws. And you can count on the U.S. Department of Labor to see to it that those protections work for you.”
That same month, Solis indicated that the Labor Department would protect illegal immigrant laborers who were participating in efforts to clean up the beaches affected by the disastrous BP Oil spill that had started on April 20. “We’re protecting all workers regardless of migration status because that’s the federal law,” she said.
On April 5, 2012, Solis delivered a speech at Al Sharpton‘s National Action Network where she stated that imposing higher taxes on the wealthy was good public policy. “It’s about fairness,” she said. “It’s about fairness in the workplace; it’s about fairness in education; and it’s about fairness in terms of what services are provided by government…. [T]hose that can afford it, the billionaires and millionaires … want to pay more because they know it’s their obligation!”
Solis stepped down from her post as Labor Secretary on January 22, 2013, with her sights set toward gaining a seat on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors (LCBS), where incumbent Gloria Molina was scheduled to be term-limited out of office after more than 20 years in that post. Representing almost 10 million people—including some 5 million Latinos—the LCBS is widely regarded as the most powerful county legislative body in America. According to Fox News: “There are only three political positions with arguably more power in California: the L.A. mayor, U.S. Senator, and Governor.” “The position is a dream-come-true for almost any politician,” said Jaime Regalado, a professor of political science at California State University in Los Angeles.
On June 4, 2014, Solis won election to the LCBS. Her campaign was bolstered by heavy fundraising. Indeed, by early May she had raised $765,000—far more than any of her rivals.
Solis is a member of EMILY’s List. She has been a guest speaker at a number of “Take Back America” and “America’s Future Now” conferences in Washington, DC, hosted by the Campaign for America’s Future and the Institute for Policy Studies.
For additional information on Solis, click here.
1 It was renumbered as the 32nd District prior to the next congressional election.