So Long Solis

Labor Secretary who presided over long-term unemployment resigns in surprise move

Barack Obama, Hilda Solis / AP
January 9, 2013

Labor Secretary Hilda Solis announced her sudden resignation on Wednesday in a move that surprised insiders, who quickly began speculating on potential replacements.

Rep. Phil Roe (R., Tenn.) told the Washington Free Beacon that President Barack Obama can avoid the controversy that has plagued several of his other cabinet nominees by nominating a new labor secretary who "does not see her job as an advocate of labor."

"What I’d like to see is somebody from the real world, someone who has both had a job and created a job," said Roe, who sits on the House Education and Workforce Committee. "There are many qualified people that worked on the labor side and management side; that will help us get people back to work, which should be the labor secretary’s first job."

Solis, who served in the House of Representatives before her stint as labor secretary, has faced criticism from conservatives for protecting union interests and hindering productivity through regulation and enforcement actions against businesses.

"I appreciate the work she has done, the service she has done for the country," Roe said. "But I hope the next secretary looks after not only the rights of workers, but also works with business to get people back to work. The unemployment rate needs to get down to 5 or 6 percent and the labor environment plays a big factor in that."

Solis called the decision to leave "one of the most difficult" she has made, but noted that she was proud of her role in regulating business and helping to resolve labor disputes.

"Together we have achieved extraordinary things and I am so proud of our work on behalf of the nation’s working families," she said in her resignation letter. "It has been more than an honor to work alongside you in fulfilling the department’s mission."

That mission has included a record number of investigations into businesses to recover back wages or fine companies for wrongful termination or discrimination. Her department was also responsible for overseeing the federal stimulus.

Solis has made several controversial decisions since taking office in 2009. Among them was the Labor Department’s decision in 2012 to begin counting unpaid internships in job creation after pledging to crack down on the practice of unpaid internships. Her office was also forced to withdraw onerous regulations that would have restricted children from working on family farms in April.

"The Labor Department had a different approach to farming than we’ve previously seen," Roe said, laughing. "They obviously didn’t have much knowledge about how farms work."

Conservative labor watchdogs also called on the Obama administration to focus on job creation rather than on union activism in his next labor pick.

"Instead of focusing on rewarding labor bosses with handouts such as relaxed financial disclosure requirements, the President has an opportunity to send a signal to employees and employers alike that he is committed to achieving sustained economic growth and greater prosperity for all Americans. We’re hopeful that the next Labor Secretary will focus on creating jobs, not just unionizing them," said Fred Wszolek, spokesperson for the Workforce Fairness Institute.

Obama praised Solis in a statement issued Wednesday, citing her service to workers.

"Over her long career in public service—as an advocate for environmental justice in California, state legislator, member of Congress and Secretary of Labor—Hilda Solis has been a tireless champion for working families," Obama said. "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."

Given accusations that the Obama administration is engaged in a "war on women," some speculated that the president would try to find a nominee of the female persuasion to replace one of the few women in his cabinet.