WASHINGTON – Democratic Rep. Hilda Solis of California will be Barack Obama's pick for labor secretary as the president-elect fills the last open positions in his Cabinet, a labor official told The Associated Press on Thursday.
Solis, who is the daughter of Mexican and Nicaraguan immigrants, has been the only member of Congress of Central American descent. She just won a fifth term representing heavily Hispanic portions of eastern Los Angeles County and east LA.
Obama planned to announce Solis' selection on Friday along with his selection of Republican Rep. Ray LaHood of Illinois for transportation secretary. The official spoke on conditions of anonymity because an announcement has not been made yet. A call to Solis's office was not immediately returned.
Obama is trying to get most of his major appointments out of the way before heading to Hawaii for a holiday vacation, and has held a news conference each day this week to introduce his nominees.
Obama has yet to announce choices for senior intelligence positions or the Office of U.S. Trade Representative.
Solis, in 1994, was the first Latina elected to the California Senate, where she led the battle to increase the state's minimum wage from $4.25 to $5.75 an hour in 1996.
In Congress, she wrote a measure that authorized $125 million for work force training programs in areas such as energy efficiency retrofitting and "green building" construction.
Andy Stern, president of the 1.9-million member Service Employees International Union, the 51-year-old praised Solis for her deep roots in the union movement. He recalled marching with her in Los Angeles — well before she was elected to Congress — to seek higher wages and benefits for janitors.
"We were with her fighting for the rights of people who work from the beginning and we're so proud that she's been chosen to be the labor secretary," Stern said.
Labor unions contributed heavily to Obama and Democrats in the November elections. They hope that having a Democrat in the White House will result in policies that will increase their membership. Their main priority will be passage of legislation that would force businesses to recognize labor unions once more than 50 percent of company's eligible work force sign union cards.
Labor leaders say employers have used secret-ballot elections, generally held on job sites, to coerce and intimidate workers into rejecting unions. Employers counter that workers are often coerced by their peers to sign union cards and that a secret-ballot election is the only way to determine their true desires.
Labor advocates also are counting on Obama's pick to lead the Labor Department to help people hit by the economic downturn by promoting the extension of unemployment benefits and boosting infrastructure spending.
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