Departing Labor secretary praised and denounced as pro-union

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W. James Antle III Managing Editor
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Outgoing Labor Secretary Hilda Solis served in an administration that touts transparency, but her tenure has been marked by criticism of how she has enforced financial disclosure regulations on labor unions.

Maryland county government employee Chris Mosquera, a member of the United Food and Commercial Workers union, sued Solis and the Department of Labor in 2011 for allegedly rolling back what he described as “vital union transparency requirements.” (RELATED: Labor Secretary Hilda Solis resigns)

“In fact, I’ve learned some interesting things about my own local’s spending habits over the years,” Mosquera wrote in a Washington Examiner op-ed. “Like the $2 million office condo they bought in Gaithersburg, or the fact that the president of my local makes over $200,000 a year, plus other undocumented benefits.”

“In the 28 states without right-to-work laws, including my home state of Maryland, even nonmember employees can be forced to contribute to a union just to keep their jobs,” he added.

Under Solis, the department expanded L-M2 disclosure regulations promulgated by the Bush administration, which required detailed financial reporting by labor leaders, including a rule requiring large unions to disclose nearly all compensation for employees and officers.

The Bush administration argued that the rules helped rank-and-file members understand how their unions dues were being spent, but organized labor complained that the rules were unfair and carried burdensome compliance costs.

Solis was viewed as a more union-friendly labor secretary than her Republican predecessor, Elaine Chao. She had compiled a pro-labor, liberal voting record while serving in Congress. In 2007, she voted 100 percent of the time with the AFL-CIO, the United Auto Workers, the Service Employees Union, the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees, the Utility Workers Union and the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers.

“We’re confident that she will return to the Labor Department one of its core missions — to defend workers’ basic rights in our nation’s workplaces,” said John Sweeney, then the president of the AFL-CIO, when Solis was first nominated.

“[S]he will be a secretary of labor working men and women can finally count on to stand up and fight for them,” said SEIU president Andy Stern. Liberal journalists also praised the Solis pick.

“What does [Solis] bring to the job?” the American Prospect’s Harold Meyerson asked. “Only a record of passionate commitment to working people, a high level of political smarts, and some genuine displays of raw guts that could make her a star of American liberalism.”

Solis was a strong supporter of the Employee Free Choice Act, also known as the card check bill. Under that proposal, a union would automatically be formed once more than 50 percent of employees in a bargaining unit signed an authorization card, bypassing a secret ballot election. Critics charged that this left employees vulnerable to union intimidation. Supporters claimed it would make it harder for management to stop workers from unionizing.

The bill never became law, even when Democrats controlled both houses of Congress by wide margins. But the administration was frequently accused of trying to implement its core provisions through the executive action and National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) rulings.

A blog entry by Fred Wszolek of the pro-business Workplace Fairness Institute, for example, accused the NLRB of targeting secret ballot elections. “As one of Secretary Hilda Solis’ former lieutenants,” he wrote of one member, “it is not surprising that in her first year on the Board she has towed the line for union bosses to the detriment of workers and their employers.”

AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka praised Solis when her resignation was announced Wednesday. “[Solis] brought urgently needed change to the Department of Labor, putting the U.S. government firmly on the side of working families,” Trumka said in a statement. “We hope that her successor will continue to be a powerful voice both within the Obama administration and across the country for all of America’s workers.”

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