AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka delivered the following remarks at the portrait unveiling for former Labor Secretary Hilda Solis:
Thank you, Jane (Oates), for that kind introduction and for the outstanding work you did at the Employment and Training Administration. I also want to thank Secretary Acosta and all the hard-working employees of the Department of Labor for hosting us today. It is an honor to be here to celebrate my friend and sister Hilda Solis.
When Frances Perkins was asked why she accepted FDR’s offer to become America’s first female cabinet secretary, she said and I quote: “The door might not be opened to a woman again for a long, long time, and I had a kind of duty to other women to walk in and sit down on the chair that was offered, and so establish the right of others...to sit in the high seats."
More than 75 years after Perkins made history, Hilda Solis didn’t just sit in that high seat...she stood. And every single worker grew stronger because of it.
Shortly after Hilda was confirmed in 2009, she visited our AFL-CIO Executive Council and boldly proclaimed: “There’s a new sheriff in town.” She didn’t let us down.
Following years of neglect, President Obama pledged to return the DOL to its fundamental mission of protecting and providing economic opportunity and security for American workers.
With that unmistakable mandate, Hilda assembled a stellar team of dedicated public servants to lead the Department’s most important agencies.
She personally stood shoulder to shoulder with workers and their families during a wave of disasters, both natural and manmade, including the Great Recession, the Upper Big Branch Mine explosion, the BP Oil spill and Superstorm Sandy.
She sought and won significant new funding for worker protection, adding hundreds of job safety inspectors at OSHA and MSHA.
She launched a new enforcement initiative aimed at employers who misclassify workers as independent contractors, with vast new recordkeeping rules to expose misclassification.
She expanded the Labor Department’s programs and initiatives to reach and protect the most vulnerable workers, including Latino and immigrant workers.
And she repealed a Bush-era executive order requiring government contractors to put up a poster informing workers of their right NOT to join a union...and replaced it with a requirement that contractors post a message telling workers they DO have the right to form and join unions.
With that subtle change, Hilda sent a resounding message to America’s working people: the days of union-busting at the Department of Labor were over. We were proud to present her a giant copy of the pro-worker poster signed by all of our union leaders.
Last month marked 107 years since the Triangle Shirtwaist fire, which killed 146 workers, mostly young women. Frances Perkins happened to be there that day, witnessing the horror of women and girls throwing themselves out of windows to escape the flames. That moment changed her. And it was a driving force behind her lifelong pursuit of justice for working people.
Similarly, Hilda Solis has always leaned on life experience to shape her career in public service, including her current job as L.A. County Supervisor. She is the daughter of immigrant parents who met in citizenship class. Her father was a shop steward with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. She was the first in her family to go to college. Hilda knows what it’s like to struggle and scrap and persevere. Hers is an American Dream story. And she’s never stopped fighting to extend that dream to others.
In the end, Hilda Solis put the labor back in Labor Department. We are forever grateful for her service and solidarity. Thank you.