When the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor decided in 2000 that it would stop giving “rubber stamp” backing to disappointing Democrats, the federation’s dynamic leader at the time, Miguel Contreras, declared: “We’ve lifted the bar for endorsements.”
“It’s not enough to say you’re for a minimum-wage increase and expect our backing,” Contreras explained. “We want candidates who make a commitment to be with us on every vote, and to be with us on the picket lines.”
The first candidate to leap the bar and secure the backing of the labor group was a California legislator named Hilda Solis, who was challenging incumbent Democratic Congressman Matthew Martinez.
Martinez’s labor record was reasonably good. But he had disappointed the unions by supporting free-trade deals favored by the Clinton administration — and by failing to show up on those picket lines.
Solis, who had worked closely with the United Farm Workers, the Service Employees and other unions, won the 2000 Democratic primary in an east L.A. district. And Contreras declared that “a warrior for working families” had been sent to Washington.
Contreras was proven right.
Solis has been a steady pro-labor and progressive member of the House, taking a leadership role in fights to write union-friendly labor laws that will make it easier for workers to organize and bargain collectively, to reframe the trade debate and to defend the rights of women workers in the U.S. and abroad.
Solis has voted with the AFL-CIO 97 percent of the time since coming to Congress.
Solis serves on the board of directors of the pro-labor group American Rights at Work — along with board chair David Bonior, the former Michigan congressman who has been her mentor and ally over the years.
Solis still shows up for picket lines.
And, now, she is President-elect Barack Obama’s designee to join his Cabinet as the next Secretary of Labor.
Miguel Contreras, who died too young a few years back, is smiling today.
After too many years of attacks by Republicans and compromises by Democrats, this country’s toiling millions are looking at the prospect of having a Labor Secretary who serves as a “warrior for workers.”