fresh voices from the front lines of change







Pop quiz. Three questions, and the first two don’t count. Quick. Name the last time working Americans and their families had a friend in a presidential administration. Now, name ten good things conservatives — or conservatism — ever did for American workers. (And, no, decreasing the number of Americans who have work doesn’t count.)

Got anything? Anything? OK. Last question. Name the last presidential administration in which actual lobbyists made policy (up to and including writing legislation.)

Finally, extra credit. Name the one thing Republicans can’t bring themselves to do. If you said put a friend of working Americans and their families in a place where she can do the most good for them and their families, congratulations. You probably passed the test.

I have to admit, though, that third question was a trick question. Included mainly to make a point about Republicans delusional justification for blocking the confirmation of Hilda Solis as Labor Secretary, applying a ridiculous standard that would effectively disqualify any politically active American for a cabinet position. And, yes, that includes me and you, because if — like Hilda Solis — have ever volunteered for a group engaged in political advocacy, guess what. You’re a “lobbyist,” according to Republicans.

In the overarching story of the Obama Administration’s nominees for cabinet posts, there have been a lot of characters. You’ve got your Beltway insiders, your nerdy scientist types, your IRS scofflaws, your post-partisan picks, and everyone in between.

Put Rep. Hilda Solis (D-CA) in the “victim” category. In fact, while you’re at it, put “labor” in that category, too. Obama’s pick to lead the Labor Department has fought an uphill battle since being nominated.

First, Republicans put the breaks on Solis’ confirmation because she didn’t come out and say what everyone knows: She’s pro-labor. Her work in the California legislature and U.S. Congress combined with her pro-union upbringing is a clear sign of her prerogatives at the Labor Department. Also, her role as the unpaid treasurer for the pro-labor group American Rights at Work speaks to her work on the issue.

But instead of stating the obvious at a confirmation hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Solis dodged questions about so-called “right to work” states, card check, and the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). The questions weren’t out of line; these are the main issues facing the labor force in this country.

…I’m not quite sure what it is about Democrats that make them so reticent about their opponents’ embarrassing reasoning for supporting certain issues. Why not make Republicans say exactly why they favor big business and management over workers and unions?

Let’s just say it outright, shall we? In the last eight years, Republicans in Congress (and the president whom they enthusiastically followed for about 6.5 years or so) did everything in their power to set turn back the clock on the hard won benefits and protections of American workers who are already suffering in the midst of the economy that conservative ideology played a huge part in giving us.

Any reasonable person paying attention to the news in just the past month would understand what American workers are facing. We’ve got the worst employment index in 35 years, with employment numbers declining faster than they have since 1974. Last month we shed 598,000 jobs. Jobless claims are at their highest in six years, topping out over 600,000, with 4.8 million Americans getting unemployment benefits. We lost 2.6 million jobs in 2008. We could lose another 2 million jobs this year.

And that’s not counting the jobs problem we don’t hear much about.

January was one of the worst months for layoffs ever, with nearly a quarter-million job-cut announcements grabbing headlines.

…It was another terrible report, with employers shaving 598,000 jobs off of U.S. payrolls, the biggest drop in 34 years. The unemployment rate climbed to 7.6%, which was a 16-year high. Both results were worse than economists’ forecasts.

But since 2000, the Labor Department has also tracked hiring, job openings and layoffs. And the most recent readings on those statistics show that the level of hiring and job openings has actually tumbled more than layoffs have soared.

Through November, the number of layoffs was up 17% from year-earlier levels. But the amount of workers who were hired during November was down 26%, and the number of job openings tumbled 30%.

While layoffs are likely up from the November levels, the hit to hiring has also gotten much more severe, according to experts. And that means that once people do lose their job, it’s going to be even tougher to find a new one.

And it’s going to get worse. At the same time that unemployment is spiking in all 50 states, unemployment is rising in 98% of our metro areas, 84% of our cities are in financial trouble, and the recession has left state budgets $300 billion short. And where deficit spending isn’t allowed and balanced budgets are mandated, that means severe cuts in services at a time when more Americans and their families need them more than ever. Meanwhile states are asking public workers to make significant sacrifices — everything from pay cuts to benefit cuts. (But Wall Street CEOs whose companies are being supported by taxpayer dollars, have once again been spared a pay cut, while pay cuts and other sacrifices were demanded of autoworkers who take home a fraction of what Wall Street CEOs earn.)

It doesn’t take anything approaching genius to understand that. But while even Republican governors pressed for passage of a stimulus plan that would (finally) be directed somewhere besides Wall Street, Senate Republicans held up the process in order to cut things like funding for schools (even though training a skilled labor force is essential to economic recovery) and healthcare aid for cash strapped states (even though states are already cutting health care aid to the poor), and a provision to secure American jobs though spending stimulus dollars on American goods as we rebuild our infrastructure and our economy (see the jobs numbers above) — things that progressives are now fighting to restore to the recovery package.

Under the Bush administration, the National Labor Relations Board related to workers in a way that’s best described as hostile; never missing an opportunity to limit worker’s rights and roll back worker protections.

Republicans have consistently tried any way they could to block anything they could think of that might help American workers. And now they’re doing it again.

Hilda Solis is a more than qualified candidate for labor secretary, as the daughter of working class immigrants (who met at a citizenship class) and a union shop steward, Solis understands on a personal level the issues that American workers and their families — you know, people for whom $500,000 a year is too little to live on. She and her family manage to live on less than $500,000, like a lot of other families. (The business that Republican’s initially focused on is valued at $100,000 or less.)

Perhaps that’s the core of Republicans’ objections to Solis. Perhaps if Solis came from the world of corporate boardrooms instead of the world of union shop floors, Republicans would have fewer objections. Perhaps is she were a paid lobbyist, instead of a volunteer treasurer for an organization whose goals she supported, she’d have sailed through by now, given that Republicans have been extremely comfortable with paid lobbyists practically writing legislation.

If Hilda Solis had less of an understanding of the needs and concerns of American workers, and less passion to see those needs met and concerns answered, Republicans would have hired her already.

But they don’t get that these are precisely the reasons they should hire Hilda Solis already. So, they ought to hear about it from us until they do hire Hilda, already.

American workers need some like her on the job, and they’ve waited long enough.

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