Big Shoes to Fill: Solis’ Departure Calls for Nomination of Workers’ Rights Advocate

3:36 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Sheila Bapat for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Portrait of Hilda Solis

Who will replace Hilda Solis as Secretary of Labor?

Last Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis resigned from her position after serving in the role since the earliest days of Obama’s first term. Her departure sticks out like a sore thumb in a week when President Obama took heat for not appointing enough women to his cabinet as he begins his second term. In addition to adding gender diversity, Solis was also the first Latina to ever serve in a Presidential cabinet. As she wrote in her resignation letter, “Growing up in a large Mexican-American family in La Puente, California, I never imagined that I would have the opportunity to serve in a president’s Cabinet, let alone in the service of such an incredible leader.”

A former four-term member of Congress, there is word that Solis plans to run for office again in Southern California, possibly for the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.

Beyond the symbolic relevance of her presence in the Cabinet, Solis’s leadership at the DOL was significant for workers’ rights policy, and thus the question of who will replace her is one that labor and employment rights groups throughout the country are looking at with concern. As Solis notes in her resignation letter, she was a strong proponent of expanding unemployment insurance, job training programs, and implementing provisions of the Affordable Care Act.

One policy Solis does not mention in her resignation letter is Department of Labor regulations as they pertain to live-in caregivers. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938 has never required overtime or minimum wage provisions to apply to caregivers who work inside private homes to prepare meals, assist with bathing and grooming, and run errands.

Labor groups trying to reform this exclusion found a friend in Solis, who helped develop new regulations that would apply federal minimum wage and overtime laws to caregivers. According to the National Employment Law Project (NELP), the new rules would also require wage-and-hour recordkeeping requirements. There are some 2.5 million in-home caregivers in the United States, most of them women of color, and two-thirds of whom would be affected by the new rule.

While the new regulations have been drafted and have received mostly positive public comment, they have yet to move to the next step — adoption by the Office of Management and Budget and the White House — progress that NELP and other groups will pressure the next DOL Secretary to address. Ideally the rule would pass while Solis is still serving as DOL (her last day is likely in February though this information couldn’t easily be ascertained). RH Reality Check tried to reach Solis for comment about the new FLSA regulations soon after her resignation last week but was told she is not currently granting interviews.

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