HEARING OF THE SENATE HEALTH, EDUCATION, LABOR AND PENSIONS COMMITTEE
SUBJECT: THE NOMINATION OF REP. HILDA SOLIS (D-CA) TO BE SECRETARY OF LABOR IN THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION.
CHAIRED BY: SENATOR EDWARD KENNEDY (D-MA)
WITNESSES: THE NOMINEE TESTIFIES
SEN. KENNEDY: Good morning, and it is a good morning, and we have a wonderful group of our colleagues and friends that are here today -- an extraordinary number, really -- to join with us. It's a real indication of the fact that -- how much we admire our nominee and how important this committee on these important matters. And we understand, I think all of us, given the challenges that we face, the importance and significance of the committee and how important to have a secretary that's as strong a nominee as we can possibly have.
So we want to welcome Senator Feinstein and Senator Boxer, and we're also joined by Sheila Jackson-Lee, but we'd like to ask Senator Feinstein and Senator Boxer if they'd be willing to make a comment, an introduction for our nominee this morning. Senator Feinstein.
SEN. DIANE FEINSTEIN (D-CA): Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, Senator Enzi, and members of the committee. For me this is a wonderful moment because to see women progress and go on and be very good at what they do is very special, and Hilda Solis is one of those women. And I'm really very pleased and very proud to recommend her confirmation as secretary of Labor.
She is one person who has actually dedicated her life to public service and to improving the lives of people in her community. Hilda was the first member of her family to attend college. She graduated from California State Polytechnic University and later earned a Master's in public administration from the University of Southern California, known as USC, with that great football team. (Laughter.)
Representative Solis began her career in public service in President Carter's administration as the editor of publications in the Office of Hispanic Affairs. After returning to California, she served as a trustee of the Rio Honda Community College board. In 1992 it was a big year. She was elected to the California State Assembly, and, unusually, two years later became the first Hispanic woman in California history to be elected to the California State Senate.
She was the chairwoman of the very powerful Industrial Relations Committee, and she was instrumental in the successful battle to increase the state minimum wage. She has offered a record 17 state laws aimed at combating domestic violence, including a bill to allow workers to take leave from their jobs to obtain restraining orders against their abusers. She won the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage award for authoring groundbreaking environmental justice legislation that seeks to reduce the number of polluting projects in minority and low-income areas.
So she now knows the Hill, is very much respected in the House, and I believe will be as well by the Senate. This is a woman of common sense and, I believe, very sound judgment. She understands the balances, and I think she very well understands the balance, as secretary of Labor, between management and labor issues. She obviously is going to fight for worker rights, but, after all, this is the position of secretary of Labor.
I really think it's a wonderful thing that President-elect Obama nominated her for this position, and I'm just very proud to be here to support that nomination, along with my friend and colleague, Senator Boxer. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
SEN. KENNEDY: Thank you, very much, Diane Feinstein. It's a wonderful welcome and introduction, and we know what a strong supporter you are of Hilda Solis. And I thank you for taking the time in joining with us.
I see our friend and colleague, your co-conspirator -- (laughter) -- Senator Barbara Boxer, and we're always glad to see her, and we thank her very much, as we do Senator Feinstein, for taking the time and joining with us here today. It makes a great difference to all of us. Thank you very much. We'll be glad to hear from you.
SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D-CA): Chairman Kennedy and Ranking Member Enzi, and all my dear friends and colleagues on both sides of the aisle, this is a wonderful day for Senator Feinstein and for me, for the reasons that you just heard from Senator Feinstein, and I will not reiterate those things, but I probably will wind up saying them in a slightly different way.
Mr. Chairman, I know I speak for millions of Americans when I say it is beyond wonderful to see you presiding today in all of your glory. I just love it. And we look forward to seeing this committee do its work. It's such an important time for every committee of the Senate.
Well, this is an opportunity for me to introduce a dear friend and colleague, someone I've worked with very closely over the years. And, you know, I think why this is such a very important nomination is we really need to hear the voices of working men and women in this country today, when things are so rough. I think that this nomination is a clear message from President-elect Obama that America's working families will be heard. Congresswoman Solis has a strong understanding of their everyday struggles. I see her deal with them every day. And she understands the challenges facing our economy and she understands the need to be part of a team, working with us to jumpstart this economy and to create jobs.
And this change couldn't come a moment too soon. You know the sobering news this morning about the current state of the labor market. Last month the economy lost 524,000 jobs, and in '08, 2.6 million jobs were lost, the most since 1945. Unemployment continues to climb. In some areas of our home state of California -- and I just did a survey of the various counties -- unemployment is over 12 percent -- over 12 percent, Mr. Chairman, in some areas of our great state. And wages, for many of the middle class, have stagnated and in some cases they've decreased in the past eight or nine years.
We are in the midst of the greatest economic challenge this country has faced in a generation, and I can think of no one who will take on the task that faces all of us and will work with us better than Hilda Solis, because she has energy, as a lot of you will see, and she has creativity. And here's the thing: She's a woman of great integrity. Throughout her career, Congresswoman Solis has been a forceful advocate for working men and women. She was born and raised in Southern California's San Gabriel Valley and she was instilled early on with the values of hard work. And that's what you do with people who work. Her father emigrated from Mexico and he worked various jobs before becoming a Teamster shop steward. Her mother came to the U.S. from Nicaragua and worked at a local toy factory. From them Hilda learned about the importance of having a voice in the workplace and the sacrifices many parents make to provide opportunities for their children.
As the very first Latina elected to the California State Senate, Congresswoman Solis worked tirelessly to pass progressive laws to strengthen our economy and build California's middle class. And in addition to her many other accomplishments, as Senator Feinstein said, she led efforts to pass a much-needed increase in the minimum wage in California.
In the '90s, when Congresswoman Solis discovered that toxic sites were disproportionately located near minority and low-income communities, she wrote an environmental justice law. And I remember one of the first things we discussed when I got to the Senate -- because I was on the Environment and Public Works Committee -- was continuing to fight for those without a voice who find themselves in situations where their children are exposed to toxics in the air and sometimes in the water, in the workplace. And as Senator Feinstein said -- and I will repeat this -- she became the first woman honored with the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award.
So I could go on. I'll put my entire statement into the record, but I'll conclude this way: I'm here to really bear witness to this woman. I know her as well as I know any other colleague. We have spent hours traveling back and forth to California, sitting next to each other, and working the entire time, trying to figure out ways to bring bipartisan support so that we can improve the lives of working men and women. So today is a special day -- to see Senator Kennedy in his chair, to be sitting next to my colleagues, Senator Feinstein and Hilda Solis. What a banner day it is, and I hope you will swiftly confirm this very worthy nominee. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
SEN. KENNEDY: Thank you, very much -- an excellent statement. We know that -- our colleagues are welcome to remain here, but we know that they have important responsibilities so we'll excuse them at any time.
SEN. FEINSTEIN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
SEN. BOXER: Thank you.
SEN. KENNEDY: Good morning. I'm pleased to welcome our distinguished nominee for the secretary of Labor, Representative Hilda Solis, and I thank Senator Feinstein and Senator Boxer for their gracious introduction.
This is not an ordinary hearing because we do not live in ordinary times. America's families are suffering in ways we haven't seen in many years, and the crisis is growing worse every day. Every morning, working families wake up to more bad news: more jobs lost, more pensions gone, more dreams that disappear. Just this morning we learned that we lost another 524,000 jobs last month. That is not just a number; it is families like Paula Stein's (sp). Paula worked hard for 30 years. A year ago she lost her job. Now she can't find work. She struggles to pay her bills. She stopped taking her medication because she can't afford it. She almost lost her home. Paula played by the rules. She took care of her family, and now everything is gone: her dignity, her pride, her savings. All is gone.
The fact that remains is Paula is not alone. There are millions more Americans just like her, men and women who can't sleep at night, parents who look into the eyes of their children, wondering if they can make it through another day. They wonder, how can we afford healthcare? How can we pay the rent? How can we put food on the table? Throughout our history, Americans have come together in times of crisis. Our neighbors, our families, our communities, our churches are pitching in, but we need leadership in our government too. We need leaders who understand what working families are facing in today's economy.
I believe that Hilda Solis is just such a leader. She comes from a working family. Her parents sacrificed to give her greater opportunity. Throughout her career Hilda has given back to her community and to her nation. She has fought against -- she has fought for working families all of her life. In the California Senate and now in Congress, she has been a voice for the voiceless with a true passion for fairness and justice. For her dedication and leadership she received the Profile in Courage Award. No one could be more deserving of that great honor.
The task before us is great, but Hilda Solis has overcome great challenges all her life. I have no doubt that she can do it again to help our families reclaim the American dream. Hilda, I want to thank you for answering the president-elect's call to serve the country, and I look forward to hearing more today about your plans for helping American families.
SEN. MICHAEL ENZI (R-WY): Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you for holding this important hearing. The significance of how important it is; this was the last Cabinet position nominated and it's the second person being heard. I first want to join in welcoming Representative Hilda Solis as the nominee for secretary of Labor, and to extend to her and to her family my personal congratulations on her selection by President-elect Obama. Your life is one that epitomizes the American dream, and your dedication to public service is admirable and should serve as an example to young people everywhere.
The Department of Labor plays a vital role for millions of Americans, and for the businesses, both large and small, that employ them, and the economic downturn does emphasize that connection between business and labor, and most particularly in small business. Now, there are few departments or agencies that share anything like the breadth and width of responsibility that the Department of Labor does. The department oversees dozens of programs and enforces a host of statutes and regulations designed to ensure that our nation's workers are safe, equitably treated, and fairly compensated when they're working; that they're assisted, trained and retrained when they're unable to work, and that they enjoy economic security and freedom when their working days are over.
The breadth of these responsibilities is matched only by their importance. Running any operation of the size and diversity of the Labor Department requires consummate managerial skill, with more than 17,000 employees and a budget of over $70 billion, and a responsibility for administering dozens of programs and enforcing a host of federal employment laws and regulations, the task is a daunting one. Given the complexity of this task, I believe it would be enormously helpful to the committee if you could share with us today any specifics regarding your managerial experience and your experience with the substantial laws and programs which fall within the department's jurisdiction that you believe are important.
Beyond managerial and substantial experience, the successful stewardship of the department also requires the ability to work constructively with many stakeholders. A managerial or policy perspective that's too narrow or too partisan won't serve the department well, nor will it ultimately serve those whose interests the department is there to protect. Any governing philosophy which rests on the assumption that the interests of employers and employees are always adversarial is one that's destined to be counterproductive.
The president-elect has often spoken eloquently and persuasively about the need for change, repudiating the us-versus-them mentality that has unfortunately characterized much of labor-management relations. It would certainly be a change that I believe everyone would welcome, acknowledging the fact that employers are not the enemies of those that they employ, and that particularly in these economic times, cooperation and engagement may often be far better strategies than confrontation and dismissal.
This committee has shown their ability to work through those different phases. We made the first nine changes in OSHA in the history of OSHA. One of those is the needle stick bill that protects both the janitorial staff as well as the nursing and doctor staff. We also made the first change in mining laws in 28 years, and we did that in six weeks, as compared to the normal six years of getting a new concept through.
Now, I often call upon my experience as a small businessman -- two decades of selling shoes -- to use during my work here on the Health Committee. I know that your husband, who I think is here with us today, also runs a small business. He may agree with me that for a small businessman, employees are like family, and everyone strives for the ability to make payroll, provide good benefits, and a flexible work environment. An inflexible regulatory environment can hamstring the ability of such employers to achieve the balance that best serves his or her employees.
Again, I believe that it would be enormously helpful to the committee if you could outline your governing philosophy in these respects, and how it's been reflected in your previous public service.
As I indicated to you in our meeting yesterday, I recognize the fact that on most of the current labor issues you and I have very different views. From my perspective, however, I do not believe that fact precludes individuals from working constructively together. Not only do I believe that people can disagree without being disagreeable, I also believe that if they try they can often find common ground, and as I mentioned yesterday, I think that happens in at least 80 percent of the instances.
One area where common ground should certainly before found is in retooling our nation's job training system. I commend you on the emphasis you placed on skills development, and job search assistance, and the background that you have through community college. At a time when our economy is being challenged to create jobs that will bolster our infrastructure and our competitive edge in the 21st century global economy, the skills of our workforce have not kept pace.
My colleagues know that I strongly believe we must reauthorize and improve the Workforce Investment Act, the law that helps provide American workers with skills they need to compete in the global economy, not just in traditional jobs. I hope you'll work with me to improve this vital program. Again, I congratulate you on your nomination and commend you for your public service, and I look forward to your testimony, and then with working with you.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
SEN. KENNEDY: Okay, thank you very much. Senator Enzi, who's so active in the workings of this committee, we thank you for your comments.
Also I want to start with Senator Murray, who is the chair of our Labor subcommittee. She could not be here today because of the floods, which are overwhelming in her state. And we'll go with Senator Harkin. What we have tried to do is -- with our subcommittee chairs is get the recognition for them, and then follow the order of priorities in the workings of our committee.
And so I want to welcome my friend, Lois Capps, as well, for being here. And perhaps before we hear from Senator Harkin, perhaps we could introduce the members of your family. If you have a moment, we'd welcome that. We do not have the extended family -- (laughter) -- here today, because we wanted to leave a little room for others here. But, I've had the good chance to meet a good share of them, and they are delightful, and enormously resourceful, and extraordinarily hard workers and wonderful individuals. But perhaps we could start, Hilda -- (inaudible) --
REP. SOLIS: Senator, would you like me to introduce them?
SEN. KENNEDY: Yes. That would be good.
REP. SOLIS: Thank you, Senator. And, again, it's a privilege to be here with you and with your distinguished colleagues.
I'm happy that at least one-fifth of my family is here with me, and travels from California to be here at this very important hearing. My husband, Sam Sayyad, who is a small business owner, and has been for over 20 years, is with me; my youngest sister, who has a twin -- Senator, you recall meeting the twins, this is Anna Solis, she is a chemical engineer from Orange County; and my sister, who just received her Ph.D. this year, Dr. Beatrice (sp) Solis, her Ph.D. is in Public Health; and we have various friends in the audience. So, thank you, Senator.
SEN. KENNEDY: Very good.
REP. SOLIS: And I thank my colleagues from the House of Representatives for being here -- distinguished member, Lois Capps, and distinguished member Sheila Jackson Lee.
SEN. KENNEDY: Thank you very much, and we'll look forward to hearing your statement. (off mike consultation.) Does Senator Harkin want to make his --
SEN. TOM HARKIN (D-IA): (Off mike) -- put my statement in the record, and I'll get on with the questions -- (inaudible) --
SEN. KENNEDY: Okay, that's fine.
Senator Isakson is the other co-chair of our committee.
SEN. JOHNNY ISAKSON (R-GA): Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. And I want to echo the comments of Senator Boxer, and all of us. We're all very glad to see you here chairing today, and looking so fit and so well, and we thank you for being here.
And I welcome Representative Solis, with whom I served in the U.S. House of Representatives on the Education and Labor committee. We had a great meeting two days ago in my office and discussed many of the things of concern to me. And the most important thing, of course, the secretary of Labor's job is to look after the workforce of America, and see to it that they are safe, and they are treated well, and they are -- and things are fair.
And certainly in the last eight years that's happened. In the last eight years we've reduced workplace injuries and fatalities to the lowest level in history; recovered a billion-and-a-quarter worth of wages that had been unpaid and should have been paid; and nearly a hundred million in stolen funds from unions -- all of which were done in the Department of Labor. And I am sure secretary Solis -- if confirmed as secretary, will be able to continue that legacy.
I have two main interests that we discussed in the meeting which I do want to bring up in my opening remarks, and hope that Representative Solis will address in her statement or in question and answers later. First of all is, with Senator Murray's able leadership on our subcommittee we have dealt with three significant issues -- the banning of asbestos, which has been attempted for 37 years, and only until last year had not been done; the critical issue of mine safety, following Sago and Crandall disasters which caused the loss of lives; and other pieces of legislation.
We did that by finding an equilibrium and a balance between labor and management; employer and employee; circumstance, situation; and fact and fiction. And so I hope, as we go forward on workplace safety issues, we will get the facts; we will find the answers; and then we'll act in accordance to what really happened, rather than emotion at the time.
In particular, in my state right now we are waiting the outcome of OSHA's report on possible criminal indictments or criminal charges in the Imperial Sugar explosion, and we're also waiting the Chemical Safety Board's report on what actually caused that dust explosion. And I hope we will wait until we have all those facts before we act in haste and possibly miss doing some constructive things that we can do to help see that that never ever happens again in the United States of America.
Secondly, and lastly, "card check" is a huge issue. And I told the secretary-designate, or nominee, before that that would be a major issue I would want to discuss, because I'm so concerned with skewing the relationship between labor and management. The secret ballot has been critical in organized labor for years. In fact, organized labor sought the secret ballot to protect against company intimidation of employees in whether or not they would unionize or not.
I know the secretary has supported "card check" in the House, but I also know in the 1990s, in the California legislature, the secretary -- the secretary-designate Solis authored legislation guaranteeing over-time pay for over eight hours of work, but also guaranteeing negotiation for flex-time to avoid that overtime mandate if the employers and the employees agreed.
And in that legislation secretary-designate Solis had legislation that said the following, quote: "Only secret ballots may be cast by effective employees at any election held pursuant to these procedures." And I'm assuming that, at the time, that was to ensure that every employee had a voice, unaffected by management or labor, in terms of whether or not they would agree to alternative flex-time. I think that demonstrates the possibility for openness on the card-check issue, and I look forward to hearing from the secretary-designate on that issue.
But I end where I began. I congratulate you on your nomination. I congratulate your sister on her Ph.D. recently, and welcome your husband in being here today. I also was a small business operator, and we guys always stick together.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
SEN. KENNEDY: Well, you've received quite an introduction here, and we're all enormously appreciative for your service to the country and your willingness to take on this responsibility, and we look forward to hearing from you now.
REP. SOLIS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And I too am delighted that you could preside over this particular hearing today. Ranking member, Senator Enzi, who we -- had a great discussion the other day, thank you. And also, all the distinguished members of the committee, I believe I had a chance to speak with just about everyone, with the exception of Senator Alexander, but I'm sure we will take time after this meeting and, hopefully, get a chance to talk and discuss what your concerns are.
So, I want to thank all of you. I am deeply honored and grateful that President-Elect Obama has selected me to serve as his designee for secretary of Labor. If confirmed, I'm eager to serve the American people and lead the Department of Labor to improve the opportunities for hardworking families.
My vision of the Department of Labor is rooted in who I am. My father, as you know, worked hard as a Teamster shop steward in a battery recycling plant for more than 20 years. His membership in the union helped my family have health and other benefits even when times were tough.
My mother emigrated from Central America -- Nicaragua. She was a stay-at-home mom for most of the time that I was a child. But, like anything else, she later went to work at a toy factory to help make ends meet, and became a member of the United Rubber Workers.
I'm proud to have been the first of my six brothers and sisters to graduate from college. I'm very proud of my siblings, including my two -- my sisters who are here, who you met earlier. We could not have gone to college without federal financial aid, like Pell Grants. And I know Senator Pell was a member of this very distinguished committee, and I'm very grateful for the work that he provided for millions and millions of young people.
Before I became a public official, I worked as director of the California Student Opportunity and Access Program, a state-funded program, so that I could help others in similar backgrounds achieve the dream of higher education.
As a board member for the community college, Rio Hondo College, I had the opportunity to help implement workforce training programs, something that I have a very deep passion about.
In 1992, I was elected to serve in the California state assembly, and in 1994 I became the first Latina state senator in California. I have proudly served the people, the distinguished people of the 32nd congressional district, for the last eight years, and I thank them for their confidence in re-electing me.
The fact that I'm sitting before you today as a child of an immigrant family, a working family, is proof that in America anything is possible. Now, more than ever, we must work together to ensure that all Americans have the same opportunities that I had.
Unfortunately, increasing numbers of middle-class families, retirees and youth in America are losing their jobs, their homes and their retirement savings. Data released this morning, as you know, show that unemployment has risen to 7.2 percent. Youth unemployment exceeds well over 20 percent. And more than 500,000 jobs were lost in December. In my district alone, the city that I reside in, the city of El Monte, I believe the unemployment rate has gone above 11 percent.
Among those facing tough economic challenges happen to be women. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, women continue to make only 77 cents for every one dollar earned by a man. And minority women have even more cause to be concerned. Latinas earn just 57 percent and African-American women just 68 cents for every dollar that a man earns.
Our returning service men and women are also facing tough challenges in these hard economic times. Increasing numbers of young veterans are returning from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan with many disabilities, including post-traumatic stress disorder and brain injuries.
If confirmed, senators, I will join the president-elect's team as a voice for working families. I am eager to work with you and believe we have an obligation to restore trust and hope for a better future, for a better tomorrow.
I would like to highlight four areas that I would like to focus on, if confirmed. First, the Department of Labor must help workers by prioritizing job training and assistance. Retooling our workforce not only helps workers but supports high-growth industries by ensuring they have the skilled workers that they need.
If confirmed, I will work with President-elect Obama, my colleagues in the Cabinet and you to reinvest in and restructure workforce development and ensure a strong unemployment insurance system. This includes promoting what we now know as green-collar jobs. These are jobs that will provide economic security for our middle-class families while reducing our nation's dependency on foreign oil and resources. These are jobs that will also stay in the United States. My hope is that these jobs will not be outsourced.
Second, the Labor Department must ensure that American workers are paid what they deserve, are treated fairly, and have safe and healthy workplaces. We can accomplish this through enforcement, transparency, cooperation and balance.
Third, the crisis in retirement security demands action. We must expand retirement savings, ensure that existing pension plans are solvent, and provide retirees and workers with the information they need to make good decisions in how to invest for their retirement.
The Labor Department must assure that the door to opportunity is open to every American, regardless of race, sex, veteran's status or disability. If confirmed, members, I would work to ensure that our sons and daughters returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are provided with the needed assistance that they deserve, including job training and re-employment assistance.
On the battlefields of war, our soldiers pledge to leave no one behind. Together, we must pledge to leave no veteran behind. Through these and other efforts, we can help strengthen America's greatest assets -- its human resources.
In closing, members, let me express my sincere hope that this is just the beginning of an open dialogue with you and other members of this committee. As a member of Congress, I value open communication. And if confirmed, my door will always be open to you. I thank you for your time and this very, very wondrous occasion for me to be before you. And I thank you.
SEN. KENNEDY: Thank you very much.
We want to now move to the questions period. We'll have five- minute rounds on this.
Let me ask you, Ms. Solis, American families are suffering during this period of time; and as we mentioned, as you mentioned this morning, the loss of some 524,000 jobs. And millions of Americans fear they'll be the next that will lose their jobs, their pensions, their health care, and the American dream.
So what should the Department of Labor do to help all of these individuals, particularly the 11 million who have lost their job? And any economic recovery plan must create new jobs. And as secretary, how will you ensure that Americans will have access to new jobs?
REP. SOLIS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I am happy to expound upon my testimony and to tell you that I believe, as you stated, we are in a crisis situation. The public is demanding action on the part of the Congress to see that there is relief provided to not just the families that we're talking about here today, but also those future families, those future young men and women, who are also looking to this great country here for their better future.
I am very excited that the opportunity might present itself to allow for more investment in that human resource. And that human resource would provide, I think, a sufficient opportunity to help change the direction of this country and hopefully stimulate our economy by providing infusion of federal assistance in funding to help jump-start this economy by creating 3 million jobs.
Now, some of us have heard that there will be a recovery package. I don't have all the details and can't really elaborate in full detail about what that will mean. But I can tell you that there is an earnest concern in terms of providing infrastructure funding for those particular projects that might be ready to go in different parts of the country.
I know in the state of California we are looking very anxiously to see that we can help rebuild our schools, help to transform our transportation system to help reduce air pollution and congestion, and get people to work on time.
And then secondly, I think the greatest asset that I see here sitting before you is to promote the green-collar jobs and trying to make that opportunity available, not just to those that are already looking for jobs, but those that want to have an opportunity for a career change.
This is a potential, I believe, that we have not seen before. We now have the (calling ?) to reduce our dependency on foreign oil and other sources of energy that are so costly to this country. We need to make those investments here. I know that there are many, many small businesses and medium-size businesses that are waiting to see the action on the part of the federal government to help provide for that workforce potential, whether it be through community colleges, vocational programs and other essential programs, through apprenticeship programs that have often been very essential for key construction, but also in the energy efficiency cycle, I see an area where we can potentially increase the growth for many, many individuals who have fallen off our radar in terms of not being accounted for even in the unemployment lines. They are desperately in need of having retooling, educational opportunities.
And we need to make that human investment, whether it's short term -- and we should be able to make it in a very strategic manner, not to waste money, to bring together those programs that we know work efficiently, bring the stakeholders together, and that means business. It means our educational institutions. And it also means our community groups, non-profit groups and other organizations that want to help us undertake this very, very important challenge that we have before the American public.
SEN. KENNEDY: Thank you very much. I just have a short time left. But I want to talk about the work family, what your views are about that. We have now 70 percent of families are headed by working families. Americans also are working harder. The typical couple works close to 90 hours a week. I was glad that President-elect Obama was creating a working families task force. So I'd be interested in what the role will play on the working families task force and how you believe that we should be addressing the working families' struggle to balance family and work responsibilities.
REP. SOLIS: Yes, Senator Kennedy. I know that this is going to be a very, very important component in our restructuring and planning of how we actually implement the recovery for the American families. And working families is something that I think all of us perhaps in the last few years have kind of lost sight of, because we do see our families struggling.
We see two heads of household if not others now having to provide sufficiently for a roof over the family's head, providing essentials just to make a living.
I think that we are envisioning here -- and I've had an opportunity to speak with Vice President-elect about this -- is that we need to restore the respect and integrity of those individuals that work in the workplace. And that begins by providing a safe, secure environment for workers where they are, that they have protections in the workplace, that they have a livable wage, a wage that can provide sufficiently for their families.
But also provide those other necessities that will allow, for example, if there is an illness in the family, there may be a returning veteran that may need another family member to provide assistance. So appropriate family leave, sick leave are also very, very essential components to providing a structure for the working families.
I think envisioning, also, opportunities for family members to grow in this changing and very dynamic economy where we need to have better assessment of what types of jobs opportunities are available. We see now, for example, in the automotive industry millions of people are being affected by the loss of jobs there. We need to retool that workforce. We need to look at other efficient types of programs that could readily put them into another job with sufficient training and examination and to be more targeted about it.
And that, I think, is going to be one of the greatest challenges we have, looking at refiguring the way we do business here in America and keeping those jobs here and keeping those working families healthy, and I mean economically.
SEN. KENNEDY: Senator Enzi.
SEN. MICHAEL ENZI (D-WY): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I always try to start with a question that can be answered very easily, one word or two.
One reason we've passed a considerable amount of legislation through this committee, usually by unanimous consent or very large majorities and very little floor time for debate, is because of the good working relationship between the majority and the minority, both the senators and the staff. If confirmed, would you pledge to cooperate in this type of a working relationship with all senators on this committee, Democrat or Republican, and by promptly responding to any written or phone inquiries, sharing information that you get as soon as it becomes available and directing your staff to do the same?
REP. SOLIS: Senator Enzi, we spoke about this at the discussion that we had in your office. And I shared with you that I understand the frustration as a member, as well, in the Congress when we send letters to different agencies and sometimes are waiting to hear back a response. I know how important that is to be timely and responsive. And even if we don't have an appropriate response to at least get back to that office to let them know what the status is or that we are continuing to inquire.
I will make my best effort to every member of this committee and to every member of the Senate if there is an inquiry and they would like to have time to speak to me personally or to get a response from any potential branch of the Department of Labor.
SEN. ENZI: Thank you. I would mention that Senator Daschle yesterday just said yes. (Laughter.)
The current -- (inaudible) -- methodology for determining prevailing rates has been criticized as being highly unscientific, error-filled, self-selected sampling that often yields dramatically inaccurate results. There are instances where the Department of Labor determined prevailing rate has been as much as 33 percent below the actual market rate and as much as 75 percent above the market rate.
The inspector general has found significant inaccuracies in 65 percent of the wage surveys. Those errors harm both the taxpayers and the workers. Do you believe that the process for determining prevailing wages could be reformed or needs to be reformed?
REP. SOLIS: Senator, that is a very good question and one that I understand I would be very happy to take another look at and also take your concerns in mind. I know that there have been occasions where the Department of Labor has not received the most accurate information. And that takes, also, having good staff to be able to do that and having sufficient funds to be able to collect that data.
So I would work with you to help see that we can achieve that goal, but understanding that there are limited resources. But I would hope that we could get your support also to help provide the necessary tools for funding of the kinds of projects that we know so we do not overestimate or underestimate anyone's proper pay.
SEN. ENZI: Thank you. Senator Kennedy raised the issue of families in the workplace. As a tool in attempting to balance the demands of work and family life, federal government employees have the right to enter into comp time and flex time arrangements with their employers. The same latitude that federal workers have is currently denied to workers in the private sector. Would you support extending these same rights to workers in the private sector? And if not, why not?
REP. SOLIS: Senator, another very good question. I would like to explore that more with this committee. I know that we may have similar concerns and we may have some differences there. But that's something that I think I'm not prepared to give you a complete answer on at this time.
SEN. ENZI: Okay. As you're considering that, if it is not a good idea for the private sector to have that, consider that it might not be a good right for the government sector to have. We have a lot of conflicts in Wyoming where one family member is a federal employee and one is a private sector employee, and they can't get time off at the same time because they don't have the same rights.
To change direction again -- Executive Order 13202 declares that neither the federal government nor any government agency acting with federal assistance shall require or prohibit contractors to sign union agreements as a condition of performing work on federally funded construction projects.
In the past eight years, billions of dollars worth of federal and federally funded construction contracts have been bid competitively, open to both union and non-union employees and their employers. Would you advise the preservation of Executive Order 13202 and its requirement that all contractors, both union and non-union, be allowed to compete for federal government contracts?
REP. SOLIS: Senator, I would just say to you that that is an item of great interest to me. I think that that is something that I am not able to speak to you at this time but will like to review and then come back to you personally on that matter.
SEN. ENZI: Okay. So far, we've got three reviews. During the recent election, there was a great deal of discussion about the need for transparency in government. The logic here was absolutely correct. As citizens, we're entitled to know what the government's doing and how it's spending our money. This is no less true for union members with regard to their union than it is for all of us with regard to our government.
Since 2001, the Office of Labor-Management Standards, through criminal court cases, has recovered $88 million for union workers. Yet the AFL-CIO has proposed returning OLMS funding to roughly 2001 levels. And I think you voted against an amendment to reverse the funding cut for that office in 2007. Would you support continuing all current initiatives and programs aimed at investigating and prosecuting those union officials that violate their fiduciary duties and abuse the trust of union members by misusing union funds?
REP. SOLIS: Senator Enzi, I believe that wherever there's any corruption that we have a responsibility to end that and to go after those individuals that might be involved in any type of corruptive behavior. So I would look very closely, not only at the unions but also at the business sector. And I would look to find an approach that is balanced. And that's where I would like to receive more input from this committee and from yourself.
SEN. ENZI: Thank you. My time is expired.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
SEN. KENNEDY: Senator Dodd.
SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD (D-CT): Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
And welcome, Hilda. It's a pleasure to have you before the committee. Congratulations, by the way, to the president-elect for choosing you and for your willingness to accept this tremendously challenging job.
And Mr. Chairman, I'm going to ask that opening statements we have would be included in the record as well for all of us here today.
SEN. KENNEDY: Yes.
SEN. DODD: I went back and looked at -- the Department of Labor is 96-years old. It started in 1913. It will be 100-years old in the completion of Barack Obama's first term.
And I went back and looked at the authorizing language in the creation and the purpose of the Department of Labor. "The purpose of the Department of Labor shall be to foster, promote and develop the welfare of wage earners of the United States, to improve their working conditions and to advance their opportunities for profitable employment," end of quote.
The 20th century is the century that created the middle class in this country. Prior to that time, (there were ?) great, great differences in disparities. Without any question, of course, those rights and those privileges that were extended to working people were hard fought. They were not given out gratuitously or generously. They were given out because people, like your parents and others, fought very hard for the rights of individuals to have a decent wage, decent hours, working conditions, the prohibition of child labor. People lost their lives in those battles for that effort.
And today, as reported by Senator Kennedy, our chairman, this morning, as Barbara Boxer did, the staggering problems that are facing our country, the rising levels of unemployment you point out in some of the counties of your state now in excess of 12 percent unemployment, I think those numbers are low. I think we're not doing an accurate job of collecting unemployment figures.
And I think a lot many more Americans are today worried about whether or not they have any future at all in all of this.
So I think it's very important we keep in mind what the purpose is here and to see to it that we close that disparity in income and wages. I listened to Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank, give a speech in Omaha, Nebraska about a year-and-a-half ago in which -- I'll quote him for you here -- and he talked about one of the reasons for the 80-85 year disparity in income in this country.
And let me quote his remarks that morning to you. He said, "Thus the decline in the private sector union members over the post-World War II period, particularly the sharp drop in the 1980s, has been associated with an increased dispersion of pay among workers with (immediate ?) levels of skill." And effect than -- just drawing the conclusion based on data here, the delinking number of union households has directly contributed, in my view, to the disparity of income in this country and thus, the pressures on working families.
There are a lot of questions to raise here. Let me raise two, if I can: One is the issue of family and medical leave. I spent seven years -- along with Pat Schroeder on the House side; Senator Kennedy was invaluable in that effort. Dan Coats of Indiana was my co- sponsor; Alan Specter; Kit Bond were all deeply involved with me as I wrote that legislation. It went through two vetoes and finally, 16 years ago on February 8th, 1993 became the law of the land.
Almost 75,000 -- 75 million people have been able to take advantage of Family and Medical Leave. And as Senator Kennedy pointed out, with 90 hours of work in average families, single families raising children, we all know the tremendous pressures on families today -- not only in terms of their economic issues, but also holding their families together. When you have a sick child or parent or difficult at home, to be able to take that time and care for that child.
We also know that three out of four people who qualify for family and medical leave don't do so, because it's unpaid leave. Now, Barack Obama in his campaign has talked about, and I've authored legislation -- Ted Stevens of Alaska was my cosponsor on this, by the way, with a creative idea on coming up with a paid leave program.
Now, would you tell us briefly how you feel about that and whether or not you'd be willing to be supportive of a paid leave program?
REP. SOLIS: Senator, thank you for that question. And thank you for your work on this very important issue that has affected so many working families across this country.
But even more importantly, for many women -- if I could just take a moment and say that, because I think that our situation now is such that we find ourselves where single head-of-household women are now having to make up the differences for maybe an absent spouse, and also the hardship of keeping a job and maybe even going through the problem of having lost her wages or a substantial cut. Where now she's no longer working full time, and maybe working part time -- maybe 38 hours and isn't even qualified for many other benefits.
We have a situation that's broken, in my opinion, and I think that we have to work harder to see that we provide those kinds of support efforts and programs and find out how best to provide for sufficient funding to see that they can occur.
I understand some members of this committee have concerns with respect to how do we pay for those kinds of benefits. But I think also, in the long run, you have to be mindful of those employees that work for these businesses or are in the workplace that contribute so greatly and so much. They make so much sacrifice, as you have just laid out.
But I think it's worthwhile to look and explore other avenues so that we could make the kinds of benefits that were stated earlier by the previous senator regarding the differences with public employees receiving time off for family medical leave that we should try to somehow provide an example that as good stewards of our workplace, that we can also extend at least the idea of looking at providing substantial sick leave and medical.
SEN. DODD: I'll just point out to you: There are three countries in the world that don't provide some sort of paid leave program: Papua New Guinea, Swaziland, Liberia and the United States. That's a remarkable group of countries to be associated with on an issue such as this one.
Lastly, let me just say to you -- just say to you on the issue of jobs issues. Again, I know many of us use different language to describe this, but I think most of us would agree here that the best social program ever designed by anyone was a good paying job. That's the best social program in many ways.
And someone who's been deeply involved with these centers -- the workplace centers, one-stop career centers -- obviously, today given the numbers, it's going to be critically important to expand that. I don't know if you have any just brief comments on your views on those centers and their value.
REP. SOLIS: Thank you, Senator Dodd.
Yes, I am familiar with the one-stop shops and also with the work of the WIA program. I know that there's some members of this committee who have concerns about reauthorization and trying to make it more effective -- streamline it and make it more targeted and strategic.
And we do -- I think I do agree that we do need to do that. But of course, I'd want to work with you and other members of this committee who have a great interest in trying to reduce duplication, make it more effective and allow for those individuals that can get readily trained to get out into the workforce. I think that's our number one priority. And then looking at long term how we can get people into higher paying jobs as they receive that training.
So yes, Senator, I am wholeheartedly in support of these programs and want to see them expanded and improved.
SEN. DODD: Thank you very much. I look forward to working with you. Congratulations again.
SEN. KENNEDY: Senator Alexander.
SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER (R-TN): Thanks, Mr. Chairman.
Representative Solis, congratulations to you and to your family and I look forward to working with you.
There ahs been a good deal of talk today, as one might expect, about workers' rights, about rising incomes. And there's been a lot of discussion about automobile jobs in this United States Senate over the last several weeks.
So I have just one question I'd like to ask you. And it involves a yes or a no as well, but I'd like to preface it with a story. In the early 1980s, when I was governor of Tennessee, President Carter encouraged us to go to Japan and persuade the Japanese to make in the United States what they sold in the United States.
So being a young governor, and he was my president, I did that. And the result of that was the Nissan automobile plant south of Nashville, which opened in the early 1980s. It's still there today and even the Nissan North American headquarters is in Nashville, and an engine plant is in Tennessee, rather than in Mexico or some other place. Ford executives from Detroit were hired to come down and manage the plant; Tennesseans were hired to work in it. It's been a big success story and it's contributed to rising incomes in Tennessee.
It was the largest Japanese capital investment in the United States in history at the time. Two or three years later, General Motors made the largest United States capital investment in history when they located the Saturn plan 14 miles from the Nissan plant. And I remember saying to Roger Smith, who was the head of General Motors who was complaining about the Japanese competition. I said, why don't you put your new plant right next to the Nissan plant and tell you management and tell your union that if they can do it, you can do it as well. So the Saturn plant has been there for all that time. And its managers were from Detroit, by and large. Its workers were virtually all members of the United Auto Workers Union. It's making Chevrolets today, not Saturn, but it's still there.
And the end result of that competition between those two big automobile assembly plants -- one of which is union and one of which is not and which are 14 miles apart -- is that today one-third of all the manufacturing jobs in Tennessee are automobile jobs and our incomes have risen as a result of it -- even in this economic downturn. We're deeply grateful for all those jobs -- those who belong to the United Auto Workers and those who don't.
Now, the reason we're able to have that kind of work environment in Tennessee is because of Section 14B of the National Labor Relations Act called the Taft-Hartley Act, which gives every state the right to have a right-to-work law. A law that says to its employees: You may decide to join the union or you may decide not to join the union. As in the Saturn plant, anyone there who works there does not have to belong to the union, but the United Auto Workers is the bargaining agent there -- or at the Nissan plant where they have voted more than once not to have a union.
So my question to you is -- and I hope the answer is yes, because I can think of no question more important to workers' rights in Tennessee or to our continued increased family incomes -- does the new administration and do you support Section 14B of the Taft-Hartley Act? And will you oppose any attempt to change the right of states to enact a right-to-work law, as 22 states already have?
REP. SOLIS: Senator Alexander, thank you for your question.
I too understand the pressures that different states face with respect to manufacturing and providing for vehicles to growing populations -- something that our state has been very much involved in and we have different collaborative efforts that go on with various other foreign entities like Honda, Toyota as well.
And I would just say that some of those partnerships that we have seen -- have actually benefitted, yes, a lot of our American workers, because they are paying higher salaries.
In fact, I think it's more because folks in the American auto industry have helped to provide a standard for workers so that they do receive livable wages. And I think that that has, in its own way, affected some of our competitors here in the U.S. So I think that is a good thing.
Now, your question about whether we allow for the continuance of a right-to-work state, that is something that is -- I don't believe that I am qualified to address that at this time. That is not something that I have personally discussed with the president-elect. And like other questions that have been proposed, I would tend to say that that's something that I would want to bring to his attention to talk to him about.
But more importantly, I believe that the president-elect feels strongly that American workers should have a choice to join or not to join a union. And to me, that is the basic premise of our democracy, whether you want to be associated with a group or not. And I think that's a principle that we all hold very dearly here.
SEN. ALEXANDER: Well, thank you. I hope that the president- elect does have the view that a worker should have a right to join or not to join. But I would like to have your response, after you've had a chance to talk with him, about whether the administration supports continuation of the right-to-work law.
And I would add that we consider the Nissan plant American workers, because those are Tennesseans who work there. They were Ford managers from Detroit who came down and were the managers. There were maybe six Japanese out of 5,000. Their headquarters is there. Their engine plant is there. So we're grateful for their presence, equally with the Saturn/General Motors presence. We treat them the same.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
SEN. KENNEDY: Senator Harkin.
SEN. TOM HARKIN (D-IA): Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
And again, Congresswoman Solis, I want to commend you for your lifelong commitment to working men and women in this country. I commend you for the example that you have sent out for so many young women, including my two daughters, one of whom lives in your state, and to congratulate you on this appointment. I look forward to working with you and to hopefully making the Department of Labor a true department of labor -- not just a department of management and capital, but a true department of labor.
Today we got the figures out on unemployment. Teenagers, it's 20.8 percent; African-Americans, 11.9 percent; Hispanics, 9.2 percent; overall, 7.2 percent; went from 6.8 to 7.2 percent in December. And all of the articles I've been reading are commenting upon the increased rate of unemployment in this country of 7.2 percent and all this and how bad that is.
But what is truly scandalous, what is shocking, what is a true blot on the American character, is the rate of unemployment among people with disabilities -- 63 percent -- 18 years after the passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act, and one of its primary goals -- there were four goals. One of its primary goals was economic self- sufficiency.
People with disabilities want to work. But because of work disincentives, the lack of supportive services, transportation problems, many with disabilities who want to work simply can't get the job. Many of them are well-educated. They want to work, but everything is just geared against them. Sixty-three percent of people with disabilities are unemployed. That is shocking. I kept thinking it's going to get better and better. It hasn't gotten better.
What I implore you to do is to use your bully pulpit, your position, when you're sitting around that Cabinet table with the president there, to start talking with your secretary of Transportation and secretary of Health and Human Services, Social Security, CMS, all these other people, to form a group that will truly tackle this problem for once and for all of how we get people with disabilities into the employment sector. And I hope you would commit yourself to do that. And if you have a comment on that, I would yield to you for any observation on that.
REP. SOLIS: Senator Harkin, thank you for that question and your comments. I, too, have a great deal of concern for our disabled community and the fact that it even hits harder, in my opinion, with those of color.
We don't have services that are adequately represented throughout the country. And especially in hard economic times, we're finding that employers are having to lay people off, and sometimes they may be the first ones to go. I would hope that we could incentivize our local small business employers and medium-size employers and help them understand, give them the tools that perhaps the Department of Labor has not been able to provide in the past, so that we can make those adjustments for these individuals that want to work, that are qualified, but don't have a safe place to land. And that would be something that I would really enjoy working with you on.
As I said earlier in my testimony, I'm very concerned with the returning veterans, young men in particular, and young women that are coming back that are also disabled, that also need to have some reassurance that they will also be re-employed. And I know there are some programs out there, but we need to sufficiently expand upon this program.
SEN. HARKIN: Well, let me speak to that. I have a nephew who is severely paraplegic. He gets up in the morning and has a nurse that gets him ready; takes care of him, gets him ready to go. And he goes off and goes to work. He comes home at night, has another nurse there to take care of him, get him ready for bed and stuff like that. He lives independently, by himself.
How is he able to afford it? He doesn't come from a wealthy family at all. How is he able to afford this? He was injured in the military. And God bless the Veterans Administration. They've come and they make sure that he gets all those supportive services so he can go to work.
Why should it be just if you get injured in the military? There are a lot of people who get injured in car wrecks and other kinds of things that have the same situations as my nephew Kelly, but they don't have that kind of supportive services. And so they aren't able to get to work. And so the VA has done a great job in addressing this, but it's Americans with disabilities who have not been in the military who really need the help and the support.
Now, let me just -- one last thing. Fourteen years ago, I put $1.5 million in the Department of Labor for ILAB, International Labor Bureau -- International Labor Affairs Bureau -- to start focusing on child labor around the world. They have come up with seven volumes. This is just the first one, the use of child labor in U.S. manufactured and mined imports. There's seven others on agricultural, apparel, consumer labor, things like that. They're great investigative documents that the Department of Labor have come up with about the use of child labor around the world.
I can say that for the last several years our involvement with the International Program for the Elimination of Child Labor has been barely kept alive. I want to publicly commend the career people in ILAB, the International Labor Affairs Bureau at the Department of Labor, the career people who have kept this going, who have tried to continue to fulfill the mandate that we gave them.
The political people, quite frankly, there have not. I hope you will focus on this, find people to run that bureau who will enhance it and continue to push forward on the elimination of child labor around the globe.
REP. SOLIS: Senator Harkin, thank you for your comments.
As a member of Congress, I had a short period of time to work on something very much related to this with the situation across the border, five minutes from our U.S. border in the city of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, where we found that a number of young women, teenagers, 16 years of age, were having to work in the Maquiladoras, the factories there. Some were international corporations. Some were U.S. corporations. Nevertheless, they were being abused. They were not being paid adequately; maybe perhaps $30 a week, four shifts, 12- hour stints, whatever -- horrible conditions.
It's something that I agree the public needs to know about. So I would work very earnestly with you to see how we can try to accomplish these goals so that we provide the best and appropriate information so that we can take a look at what is happening globally and what interaction we are having with these various entities that are either providing goods to our country and to obviously explore and hopefully minimize any exploitation of young children. And I agree with you in principle that it's something we need to do.
SEN. HARKIN: Thank you very much.
SEN. KENNEDY: Senator Isakson.
SEN. JOHNNY ISAKSON (R-GA): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Representative Solis, I want to -- in your prepared statement, in your opening remarks, I want to commend you on your four priorities. I particularly want to tell you how much I appreciate your emphasis on veterans. We talked about that in my office. And that is a priority that's critically important, and I'm glad you've recognized that early on in your role, or potential role, as secretary of Labor.
With regard to the questions that Senator Enzi asked you, it appears to me that I want to revisit the California law that you worked so hard on in the 1990s. Because Senator Enzi's question about granting flexibility to private-sector companies like government employees have with regard to flex time or time off, you dealt with that in the California legislature and the law regarding overtime pay where you provided for the employees and the employers to negotiate flex time or more flexible work hours without having overtime.
But you insisted in that legislation, specifically, that there would be a vote by all employees and that it be a secret ballot. It seems to me that that was to ensure that management did not take advantage of the employees or intimidate them in negotiating flex time. If that's in fact true, why would we want to change the laws of the United States now with regard to how unions are organized and impose a card-check law that eliminated the secret ballot?
REP. SOLIS: Senator Enzi (sic), if I could just take a moment. These are very unique circumstances that we're undertaking today. And my position as a nominee for President-elect Obama to serve as secretary of Labor doesn't, in my opinion, afford me the ability to provide you with an opinion at this time. That is something that I would like to discuss with you further but something that I'm not prepared to make a statement about at this time.
And those were very different circumstances in California. Collective bargaining representation there is much more advanced than other parts of the country. And I think that the context is very different.
SEN. ISAKSON: Well, I certainly will defer to us talking later. But with regard to Senator Alexander's question on right to work and in regard to this question with regard to employees and their right to organize and have a secret ballot are critical issues that do affect labor. And I would hope we will have the time to know what your opinion is on that before the time we have a confirmation.
And I want to reiterate my support for Senator Alexander's statement with regard to right to work. Georgia is a right-to-work state. And it is very critical to me that that right be protected and that we not support any change in legislation that would take that away. There are 22 right-to-work states. The law recognized the right for them to have that choice, and I want to be sure that we continue it.
Lastly, with regard to the workplace and unemployment and jobs going overseas, there's a second issue with regard to jobs and that is high-skilled jobs, H-1B-type jobs, for example, where we have run short in this country. The jobs that have gone offshore, more often than not, have been lower-skill jobs going from the United States as we have increased the high-skill jobs in the United States because of the development of our society and our community.
There are many people that worry that we have been inflexible in legal immigration in terms of the H-1B level so that we get high-tech people in this country that we need when we need them.
I'm a big believer that levels of immigration should rise and fall with the unemployment rate sector in the United States, meaning if we have a shortage of workers, we ought to be able to raise the number of legal immigrants who come to work for a period of time and then go home. And when unemployment is high, that those numbers be reduced. What is your position on that?
REP. SOLIS: Senator Isakson, you and I did talk about this issue. And it's one that I think requires a lot more assessment on my part. And having not had the opportunity to look at the current program in its current position, I'm not able to give you an opinion right now other than to say that I want to look at how certification occurs. I want to look at how the labor pool is identified, whether it be in a surrounding area where that particular business may be looking and seeking for high-tech individuals, what extensive availability of information is there so we know if before we go abroad that we are first prioritizing those workers who are in fact capable and ready to fill these positions.
I understand, however, that there are different industries that need different types of specialty education and training. California, we have Silicon Valley. But I also would say to you that the priority, I think, in my mind would be to look at fairness, first of all looking at how we provide fairness for those individuals that are trained, that are here in our own country first, put them first. And if we're not able to get there, then really look at the statistical information that's available to see what is there and then come up with perhaps looking at other frames, designs. But at this point, that's where I would begin in exploring that.
SEN. ISAKSON: My time is up.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
SEN. KENNEDY: Senator Mikulski.
SEN. BARBARA A. MIKULSKI (D-MD): Great to have you here, Representative Solis. And President-elect Obama made an excellent choice. Your personal narrative is so compelling. And we know that you'll be a great secretary of Labor. And it's a big job, and you've got to dig in.
I know that these reviews and so on that you said you want to do are because you want to bring intellectual rigor, seek a wide variety of consultation and engage in civil dialogue and then take action. I think that's the way we ought to go without -- (inaudible). And I do admire the way you're going about this.
Let me go to the issues of jobs and job training. You've spoken eloquently about that. And you've also spoken eloquently about your advocacy on green jobs. I support green jobs. But what I also (support in the future ?), we have to have an energy policy, then we've got to create the jobs, then et cetera, et cetera.
They're going to come, but they're future. There are jobs right now, and they're called health care -- health care, health care, health care. And one of the things I have flashing yellow lights about in the Obama (stimulus job ?) is that many of the jobs are not necessarily oriented to women in the workforce. Cheers for the construction jobs, support that vigorously.
Now, this then takes me to health care. No one is talking -- everybody's talking about green jobs like they're going to be some big, green bullet that's going to solve problems. But we have jobs now. In my home state, there are 3,000 people, men as well as women, who want to be nurses. And we have a nursing shortage. And yet, we can't take them into our programs, particularly at the community college level. And the community-based job-training grants that could actually crack that code in nursing, x-ray technology, other tech jobs and so on are not there.
And I'm asking you that while we support green jobs in the future, what do you have in mind for health care jobs today? And where would you be a strong advocate, particularly in the stimulus package, to perhaps create a big jolt for the community-based job training and to crack the problem of needed faculty?
REP. SOLIS: Senator Mikulski, it was a pleasure to spend some time with you the other day to talk about this very important issue. I think you and I agree that we definitely need to do more with respect to expanding the pool of available applicants for these types of jobs but also expand the structure. And you very pointedly referenced the community college.
I know my own home state, at the Rio Hondo College Board where I did serve, we had very limited seats available for students that wanted to get into nursing, whether it was licensed, R.N. or even lesser-skilled nursing positions. And I think that one of the things that we have to do is better focus in on what those particular needs are.
So we see an aging population. We're going to need --
SEN. MIKULSKI: Representative Solis, we know what the needs are. We already know what the needs are. I'm asking you now, as the stimulus package is moving through the deliberation of both the very capable Obama team and the deliberations here, if you could prevail upon the Obama team, as we look at it here among this committee and take responsibility here in this excellent appropriator, if we could look at what are those jolts that we could do now that while people are either out of work or seeking new work to get this training and we could get a twofer -- people going to work and we could be dealing with the critical shortages that have been identified in innumerable studies.
REP. SOLIS: Senator, I think we have a good idea that I know that the president-elect, I'm sure, and members of his Cabinet would be very much attuned to hear about. And I have spoken also with some of his members to explain that I do believe that green-collar jobs and this whole stimulus package does in fact have to include a safety mechanism so that women who want to continue in their careers or expand or go onto new careers have that opportunity.
So yes, it has to be underscored. I agree with you. I will work with you and other members of this committee and the Senate to see that we do approach this with the angle that you're presenting here, that we not forget the 51 percent of the population who also needs to be fully employed in this economy.
SEN. MIKULSKI: Well, thank you very -- I'm a -- (inaudible) -- very strong voice. My time is up. I want to just give you a couple of quick heads up.
Number one, we look to you to really revitalize and reinvigorate the Women's Bureau. We need to enforce existing laws that are on the books and so. Quite frankly, it's become moribund, it's been timid, it's been a very timid and tepid bureau. That's one issue.
The other, a red alert in the pension guaranteed fund. They've gotten into risky investments.
They're in real estate, they're in stocks, they're in bonds. You're the chairman of that -- chairperson or that board, big flashing yellow light about the pension guarantee which I feel we're going to be turning to more and more.
Number -- contracting out in the Department of Labor -- GAO tells us it was overly vigorous and most of the jobs contracted out torpedoed African -- jobs held primarily among African Americans. And last but not at all least, we really do need to reform the H2B program. No one's happy about it. We've worked with our outstanding colleague, Senator Sanders. We're going to work with you and the Hispanic Caucus and the business community. It needs reform. So Women's Bureau, pension guarantee, H2B, contracting out, jobs today, jobs tomorrow. I'm ready to vote for you.
MS. SOLIS: Thank you, Senator. (Laughter.)
SEN. KENNEDY: Senator Hatch?
SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R-UT): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Appreciate your leadership and I congratulate you, Congresswoman Solis. This is a wonderful opportunity for you and a great opportunity for our country as well, and I -- my caution would be for you to not be in anybody's pocket -- do what's right. I intend to support you. I think the president deserves the utmost consideration on his appointments for his cabinet, and I'm proud of him and proud that he has this opportunity and especially proud of you and the way you fought through your life to reach this point where you are and having been a member of Congress as well.
Now, having said all those nice things (laughter) -- and I mean every word of them -- let me just say this. Labor advocates claim that the Employee Free Choice Act-type bill is necessary because unions and employees who want unions cannot get a fair election because employers in a large number of instances engage in unlawful activity during the unions' election campaign, which results in unions losing elections.
However, the National Labor Relations Board data indicates that in 2007 unions won over 60 percent of contested elections held. Further, based on recently released NLRB data on elections held during the first half of 2008, unions have been winning 66.8 percent of elections. Now, if employer interference is so prevalent how can unions win such a high percentage of elections? And it's pretty well been 60 percent or more for as long as I can remember.
REP. SOLIS: Senator, thank you for your opening statements. I appreciate your sincerity and I really take note of the long work that you've done here in the Senate and the many people that you have affected, and I want to also point out your work on behalf of immigrant children with respect to the DREAM Act. I want to congratulate you for continuing to be someone who supports the education of our -- Americans.
SEN. HATCH: I'm going to vote for you so you don't have to be that nice. (Laughter.)
REP. SOLIS: With respect to the Employee Free Choice Act, as you know, I am -- I have been a sponsor -- co-sponsor of that legislation in the House and President-elect Obama has also been supportive. But my priorities, given -- if I am confirmed will be first and foremost to make sure that we attend to the goals of the Department of Labor to see that we have fair wages, that there is safety and protection, and that hopefully people can aspire to have a good-paying job in this country. So that's the first principle.
The second principle would be that I would like to talk to members of the Senate because I think that the House of Representatives may -- may even be taking up this bill sooner than perhaps might be cause here in this house. So I know there's going to be a lot of discussion and debate, and I look forward to that discussion with you. I have not spoken with the president-elect about this and I am prepared to -- to work with everyone, but I know that first and foremost if I am confirmed that my priority will be to uphold the goals of the Department of Labor and get this economy going -- make sure that we have jobs and people trained to fulfill those jobs.
SEN. HATCH: I think if your -- if you keep that goal in mind and -- and fulfill that goal you're going to be a great secretary of Labor, and I want to encourage you to do that. One other thing -- I only have time for one more question -- recently, the UAW expressed its opposition to Congress' and the White House's attempts to bring Detroit auto workers' wages and benefits into line with foreign auto plants based in the U.S. by demanding concessions from the Big Three's UAW members.
Now, do you think it was appropriate for Senate and House -- for the Senate and the White House to demand such concessions? And what would be your opinion as to whether legislation or executive action that could mandate what the UAW and Big Three have to agree on?; for instance, since labor is opposed to such congressional and executive mandates related to terms and conditions of employment -- and further I would ask this question. How can you reconcile labor support of the Employee Free Choice Act that requires or provides for mandatory interest arbitration -- first contract arbitration which would require the same thing of unions, namely terms and conditions of employment being mandated by a third party for the union and employer and for up -- and for two years?
I mean, this is serious stuff. I think that provision is worse than the -- than the terrible provision with regard to, you know, to the first part that I was talking about in the Employer Free Choice -- Free Choice Act and part of -- I mean, as much as we all stand for secret ballot elections -- you know, to have George McGovern come out for them and also even some other top liberal leaders in our country. I think that's bad enough, but to go to first contract mandatory government arbitration that sets terms and conditions of employment and wages as well, for not only the companies but the union for two years, it's something that's not only dangerous, it's a terrible provision.
REP. SOLIS: Senator, as I said earlier I was a co-sponsor of the legislation, and President-elect Obama is also supportive. I have not had any immediate discussion with him about this, and as I said, I would look very earnestly for any thoughtful dialogue with you and other members of this committee. I think it's a bit premature for me to say anything at this point for the purposes of this hearing.
SEN. HATCH: Mr. Chairman, let me just say that I personally am very proud of Representative Solis' selection here. I think you're a credit in so many ways, and you're a member of our Congress which is very, very important as well. And this is a very, very important position and it can't be used to just magnify one side over the other or any side over any others. It has to be handled fairly and I'm convinced that you're going to do your very best to try and do that. And like I say, I intend to vote for you and I'm very proud of you and commend you for having this great opportunity -- commend the president-elect for choosing you. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
SEN. KENNEDY: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. As we know that Senator Hatch is -- as well is on the Finance Committee so he has additional kinds of responsibility on our Human Resource Committee and also on the Finance Committee.
SEN. HATCH: Are you trying to get rid of me right now?
SEN. KENNEDY: (Laughter.) I've been trying for 30 years. (Laughter.) I thought I'd try the soft sell today.
SEN. HATCH: I know a lot of people have been on your side but -- but I know a lot of people who are happy that you've been such a loser with regard to that.
SEN. KENNEDY: Very good. Good to see you. (Laughter.)
SEN. HATCH: It's always great to be with you. I -- I respect you so much and love you personally. You know that.
SEN. KENNEDY: Good. Thank you.
SEN. HATCH: In spite of all of the difficulties coming my way.
SEN. KENNEDY: Senator Reed?
SEN. JACK REED (D-NV): Well, thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, and welcome, Representative, and I think the president's made a very wise choice. Your service and your personal experiences reinforces the -- the best ideas of this country, that through hard work, through effort, through good parents and strong families that you can rise to heights that no one ever expected 20, 30 years ago. So thank you very much and I know you'll bring that same spirit to your duties as secretary of Labor.
I was struck when Senator Dodd spoke about Chairman Bernanke's comments about the economic effects of unionization, and frankly, one of the great challenges that go beyond the Department of Labor -- it encompasses the entire federal government -- is how do we raise the wages and therefore the standard of living of middle-income Americans, and I think Bernanke's comments are very prescient about -- that role has been performed for decades now by unions bargaining for better conditions and higher wages.
And I would suspect that the wage level in the Nissan plant in Tennessee would not be as high if there wasn't a strong union in the Saturn and now Chevy plant. So I think we have to consider that also when you consider your efforts, at least with regard to the Employee Free Choice Act.
There's one area I just want to focus on that we've discussed today, the distressing news of the unemployment rate of 7.6, and as my colleagues revealed, that is a national level -- in some states like Rhode Island, 9.3 and getting higher. Unfortunately -- we anticipate that, unfortunately, but among different categories of workers it's much higher -- African-Americans, Latinos -- and I wonder, as we go forward, with respect to federal measures like unemployment insurance, can we be either more sensitive to these disparate numbers on a state- by-state basis, and second, in the longer term, when you deal with the Workforce Investment Act, can we think about ways -- can you think about ways to target federal resources, not just across the board, but to those areas and to those populations which are struggling much, much more dramatically than the national average? And your comments would be appreciated.
REP. SOLIS: Thank you, Senator Reed, and I appreciate the opportunity we have to discuss those issues of concern to you. And I know that in your state perhaps the workforce there, in those situations, may be even more highly educated and trained than in other parts of the country, so you really have a different challenge, I think, in Rhode Island. Nevertheless, I still think that you're right, we do need to make an effort to target those particular areas that are stressed with higher unemployment, and I do think that there is a way the Department of Labor can begin to address some of those issues. And there are different, I think, vehicles or programs that have been used in the past to do that. One that comes to mind very quickly is the Trade Adjustment Act that can be used to help provide assistance immediately to those high targeted areas, as you're describing. That might be something I can obviously explore, or any other ideas you have.
With respect to WIA, I also agree that we do need to do a better job of strategically focusing in on those populations that we believe are a priority, whether it's returning veterans or whether it's youth that are highly unemployed -- unemployed right now, or just trying to get individuals who may be in a specific service sector that have been recently -- for example the retail industry or the financial institutions -- that we work quickly to see what kinds of opportunities we can put in place immediately.
So I want to work with this committee and work with you on coming up with those ideas and programs that work. I know you and I talked about a particular job program, I believe, that exists in your area.
SEN. REED: Well, we're very fortunate to have the best Job Corps center in the country in Rhode Island, and so we would like you to continue to support the Job Corps very enthusiastically?
REP. SOLIS: I would love to, upon your invitation, and, if confirmed, visit.
SEN. REED: Well, I'll start making the arrangements today. (Laughter.) Thank you very much, Ms. Solis.
REP. SOLIS: Thank you, Senator.
SEN. KENNEDY: Senator Sanders.
SEN. BERNARD SANDERS (I-VT): Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. Let me begin by saying I have known Congresswoman Solis for a number of years because I've worked with her in the House and we've continued working with her in the Senate, and I think it's, from my perspective, perhaps the very best appointment that President-elect Obama has made, and I'll tell you why. I think most Americans today understand the reality that the middle class is collapsing, that poverty is increasing. Since President Bush was in office, more than 6 million people have fallen into poverty, 7 million Americans have lost their health insurance, millions of people have lost their pensions, people are losing their homes, people are losing their dignity. And also since President Bush has been in office, the gap between the very rich and everybody else has grown wider, and we have the greatest gap between the very rich and everybody else of any major country on Earth.
And to a certain degree, the position of secretary of Labor, as Senator Dodd indicated earlier, is about standing up for working families, and at a time when I believe most Americans perceive that for the last eight years we've had a government that has stood with the wealthy and the powerful and ignored the needs of working families. People are saying it is time for a change. It's time to hear the needs and the pain of ordinary people in the halls of this Congress, and I think for better or worse, a lot of that responsibility is going to be on your very, very able shoulders, and I have no doubt that you will assume that voice and say that it is time that working families had a shot in this country and not just large multinational corporations.
Now, let me begin by just asking you a few questions, and the first one is going to be a very, very tough question. You helped create in the House the Green Jobs Workforce Training Program, and I worked with you in the Senate, along with Senator Clinton. Now, on that very tough question, will you help us move that program along, the one that you helped create?
REP. SOLIS: Yes.
SEN. SANDERS: All right, tough question. Now, we've heard a lot about unions. Let me just tell you a word about that. Congresswoman, today if an employee is engaged in a union-organizing campaign, that employee has a one in five chance of getting fired. Today, half of all employers threaten to close or relocate their business if workers chose to form a union. Today, when workers become interested in forming unions, 92 percent of private sector employers force employees to attend close-door meetings to hear anti-union propaganda, 80 percent require supervisors to attend training sessions on attacking unions, 78 percent require that supervisors deliver anti-union messages to workers they oversee, and 75 percent hire outside consultants to run anti-union campaigns, and on and on it goes. Will you use your position as secretary of Labor to give workers a fair shot to join a union if they wish to do so?
REP. SOLIS: Senator Sanders, it's always a pleasure to work with you and to hear your very passionate concerns about the average working families that make up this great country. And you know that I also was a co-sponsor of the Employee Free Choice Act, as well as our president elect, Barack Obama, who also supports that legislation.
Now, given the situation at this time, I have not had an opportunity to speak with him directly about the legislation, and I see my role as, again, as a steward of the Department of Labor, helping to provide protections in the workplace, fighting for those working men and women, and their children, that also deserve to receive respect and dignity in the workplace, and even upon their retirement, that there's some solvency there provided for them. I will work with you and other members of this committee to see that we work to do that.
I understand the problems that we face with egregious businesses. Perhaps there are some bad union actors out there as well. And I know that we have to correct those and we have to have a fair balance, and I will work very diligently with you and other members to achieve that.
SEN. SANDERS: Two of the issues I wanted to briefly touch upon -- Senator Mikulski talked about nursing. She and I, among others, passed legislation -- authorized legislation that would provide, per capita, funding to nursing schools that increase their enrollment. Right now every year 50,000 people apply for nursing school. In an area where we desperately need more nurses, they're rejected because there aren't faculty available to teach them. We've addressed that. What we're asking for is funding for that program so that we can create good jobs in a desperately needed area. Is that something you could be supportive of?
REP. SOLIS: Yes, Senator, and I would look strongly to also the support of the Cabinet designee for the Department of Education. That's where a lot of the funding would come from.
SEN. SANDERS: There's another area that I want to just touch briefly upon that I've been working on for many, many years. As our disastrous trade policies result in the loss of millions of good- paying jobs in this country, going to China and elsewhere, one way that we can address is this concept of employee ownership. And I know in Vermont and Ohio, some other states, we're talking about that, that if an employer retires after growing the business, as often as not that employer would like the opportunity to leave the company to his or her employees. Will you work with me in trying to expand that concept so that workers themselves can own their own places of employment?
REP. SOLIS: Senator, I am always interested in what you have to say, and look forward to exploring those ideas that you shared with me the other day in your office regarding the innovative ideas that are coming out of your own state.
SEN. SANDERS: Mr. Chairman, I think we have the opportunity here to vote for somebody who will be one of the great secretaries of Labor, and I certainly will look forward to voting for her. Thank you.
SEN. KENNEDY: All right, thank you very much. And some of our colleagues might have an additional question. Just before they do, I wanted to get back to the question of workers and their rights. We had a good round earlier on this issue. But I've been around here actually until the early '60s, and in the early '60s, there was no Employee Free Choice Act. That didn't exist. And we didn't have, obviously, those who were abusing the system because the system didn't exist. You know, people just don't respect that fact today. They talk about, oh, well, we've got that now, a change, and we ought to go ahead and enforce that and all the rest of it. It did not exist, and our system worked well and worked very fairly. So before we get all worked up about this process, we ought to recognize the history and understand what worked and what doesn't work.
And then the point -- and I think Senator Sanders recognized this -- about the percent of people that want a union versus those that -- only 8 percent have them, and the rest, 60 percent, want a union -- 60 percent want a union; only 8 percent have one. And I would think that would demonstrate quite clearly about who wants this and who does not. And you're talking about employee free choice; you're getting a pretty clear indication about that issue.
And finally on the issue, we find that -- about the NLRB, which I'm very interested in. They have a situation in the NLRB where the implementation of the workers is in the NLRB and not the Department of Labor, and so for these discussions about the wages and the rest, this is not in the Department of Labor but is in the NLRB. And so we shouldn't get confused about what the NLRB represents, what the Department of Labor represents, who has responsibility, and what's the laws in this area? It's very easy to distort and misrepresent. But I think we've tried to clear this up, and I'll ask our colleagues on both sides of the aisle to gather greater detail on this particular issue so we have all the facts on it.
I don't know whether there's any additional questions. Yes?
SEN. TOM HARKIN (D-IA): Mr. Chairman, thank you very much. I don't need to prolong this. We're anxious to get on with the administration and get you in as secretary of Labor, Congresswoman, but there's one other area I just wanted to cover with you, and that's the whole area of pensions. It was brought up a couple of times here. But, you know, in the past, basically we had a defined benefit program for people. And then that has morphed into all kinds of other things and the defined benefit plans have gone down.
It's interesting to note that as the defined benefit plans have been attacked and changed, the management has instituted unique kinds of retirement programs for senior executives. They're called deferred compensation plans, which are nothing more or less than a defined benefit program, so they get the defined benefits but the workers don't. Congressman Miller on the House side and I have introduced legislation that basically says if a company provides any kind of a deferred compensation plan for its executives, it must provide for a defined benefit plan for its workers.
The other issue is fee disclosures -- fees -- and a lot of times people -- you know, when you say, well, a fee is a half a percent or one-and-a-half percent for the administration of a 401(k) plan, it doesn't -- you don't think that that's a big deal. But here's what it means: If a 35-year-old invested $20,000 in a 410(k) plan for 30 years, paying .5 percent in fees -- the fee is .5 percent for administrative costs -- that person would have $132,287 for retirement. But if the fees were 1.5 percent -- that doesn't sound like a big deal, 1.5 percent -- the amount available for retirement is only $99,000, a 25-percent reduction in retirement for just a 1 percent increase in fees. And a lot of these 401(k) plans out there have fees of 2 percent, 2.5 percent, just all over the place. We need to make sure that when 401(k) plans are provided, that the fees are disclosed, and what it means in the difference on those fees, going from a half a percent to 1 percent to 1.5 percent, to 2 percent -- what that would mean in the employees' benefit program at the end.
Now, the Bush administration proposed rules on fee disclosures, but we've looked at those, I've had my staff go through those, and quite frankly it leaves loopholes big enough that the employer's plan can hide up to 90 percent of the assessed fees. I hope, Congresswoman, that you will take a look at these proposed rules and come up with rules that basically would disclose all of these fees so that people know what it means. If they have a plan that is 1.5 percent fees or one that's .5 percent, they would know what the difference would be in their benefits at retirement time.
So I implore you to take a look at these regulations. They're proposed rules. I think they need to be reworked, and I would hope that you would take a look at the legislation that both Congressman Miller and I have introduced. And any thoughts that you have on that I would appreciate.
REP. SOLIS: Thank you, Senator Harkin. I too agree with much of what you have said in light of what has happened in the stock market and the value of our pension plans for many Americans, and the devalue that has occurred. I too would like to see more attempt at disclosure and transparency and want to work with you and other members of this committee. I've worked in the past with Congressman Miller on this and supported legislation to that effect and would hope that we could review those regulations once they come out, if I am concerned, and have the opportunity to tighten up those loopholes that might seriously disadvantage those current retirees, or folks that are hanging on to those plans right now.
SEN. HARKIN: Thank you very much, Congresswoman. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
SEN. KENNEDY: Senator Enzi.
SEN. ENZI: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I do have some other questions. I know we have other questions that we'll put in writing, too, that we'll hope that we have answers to, and yesterday had agreed to do that, and then after we'd given up our right to a second round, your side had the second round. (Chuckles.) I do want to ask some additional questions, and we will still want to submit questions in writing.
And I'm glad you brought up the pension issue because that was a tremendous bipartisan undertaking of this committee and the United States Senate, and in fact that was over a thousand-page bill, and our final debate and bill on it was one hour with two amendments and then a final vote, which I think in probably the history of the Senate that was a record for getting it achieved, and then we did the conference committee and were able to have the same kind of bipartisan participation and support. And I think we did wind up with a situation where we have preserved pensions for people, as well as kept the companies in business, which would have also eliminated pensions.
I think there are some things that need to be done in light of the economic situation right now, and I hope that as secretary you would help us with that, but I did notice that when we voted on that legislation, that you voted against the legislation. So I guess I need to ask, if you're confirmed, if you would intend to undo that pension law, and what, if any, changes you would intend to make in the Pension and Retirement Savings Act.
REP. SOLIS: Senator, I'm looking forward to working, if confirmed, with all sides of the aisle. And to just reiterate that I too have concerns about disclosure and think that the public does deserve to be notified if they are improperly being charged fees. I think that's what President-elect Obama has talked about to the public, about more transparency, and at this particular time when we are in a financial crisis, I think it's more needed than ever. So I would like to work with you as well as other members of the committee to see how we could arrive at those principles.
SEN. ENZI: Very good. We did just pass the Technical Corrections Bill to that, which helped clear up what we thought were some of the misinterpretations by the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation, several of which the administration did not like, but I think it will make a huge difference in maintaining pensions for people, and that's what we're interested in doing.
To shift gears again, you're the only current member of Congress who is serving on the board of directors of the American Rights at Work. Do you plan to maintain that association as the secretary?
REP. SOLIS: Senator, I have various affiliations with different groups -- the Sierra Club, the National Women's Political Committee, Business and Professional Women -- many that I have held for many, many years. I will continue to hold those. I think that if I am confirmed, that I will more than likely remove myself from the board.
SEN. ENZI: Okay, because the concern has not been with you but with some of the very personal and inflammatory attacks against officials who have earned the respect of many members of this committee, and I'm sure you did not authorize those attacks, and I would hope that if you maintain any kind of a relationship with the group that you would request that they not do personal attacks. Issues, excellent; that's what we need to be working on. Personal attacks, I don't think that has a place in what we're doing and just helps to make crevices where we ought to have bridges.
REP. SOLIS: Senator Enzi, if I might just state that I was very pleased to be nominated by our President-Elect, Barack Obama, for this position. And unbeknownst to me that I was even be given this offer, I feel very blessed and very privileged for that honor.
The second call that I received after a friend picked it up on the television that somehow my name was there, presented, was Secretary Elaine Chao. She called me personally in my congressional office and wanted to thank me and wanted to just share a few words of respect to say that, as another woman, as someone who has a background that's very diverse, that she thought that this was a very, very exceptional position. And she was very kind and generous in her acknowledgement of this appointment.
So, I have the highest respect for all of our elected and appointed officials and know that I will work very hard as I have tried to demonstrate in my role as a member of Congress to work across the aisle with everyone.
SEN. ENZI: I appreciate that and, of course, one of the things that Secretary Chao did was to get a clarification on white collar exemptions. And I think you opposed the administration's regulation on that and you stated that it barred 6 million workers from receiving the overtime they deserve.
Of course, now we know that that was not the result of the regulation, that the rhetoric that we heard so frequently in 2003 and 2004 has virtually ceased.
But, I'm curious, as Secretary of Labor would you work to rescind that regulation?
REP. SOLIS: Senator, I'd have to take another look at what the Department of Labor has been working on with respect to this issue and consult with the president-elect and also other members of this body and will get back to you at the appropriate time, if you wish.
SEN. ENZI: Okay. I would wish and I'll end on a considerably easier question because we are going to be talking about a lot of job creation. And I've worked for the last four years on the Workforce Investment Act and we passed it unanimously through the Senate two years ago and were never able to go to the House, also passed, but we were never able to get a conference committee. We've had it ready to go this last two years but have not gone to the effort to pass it through the Senate. And I think that it is, that some revision in that to modernize it, to reauthorize it, is extremely critical.
So, would you propose to make sure that we do something on workforce investment and what kinds of things could be done on that?
REP. SOLIS: Senator, I know you and Senator Murray have a great deal of interest in this subject matter. And I did have an opportunity to talk to her and, of course, would like to speak with both of you and other members regarding that issue. I do think there's room for improvement but also want to get the best data in terms of what the agency is currently undertaking and what challenges we're going to face.
And again, I would just draw your attention to also the fact that we need to have a sufficient funded (inaudible) program. And that's also going to take a bipartisan effort so I would ask you to also consider that as we go and move along in the direction of making sure that jobs are out immediately for the American workers.
SEN. ENZI: I think a lot of the concern with the funding has been over the fact that we're operating under an antiquated system that had all these stovepipes that didn't have the flexibility to move the money to where the people need to be trained.
And I think as we eliminate those stovepipes we might have some success at dramatically increasing the money. And I think that the circumstances now will dramatically increase it anyway. But I think it needs to be used more effectively than we have in the past. And I think completing that piece of legislation will be a real key to it.
And I do appreciate you're appearing before us today and addressing these questions.
I noted that a number of occasions, of course, that you have not talked to the President-Elect on the subjects. I think we were kind of interested in what your personal opinion was but recognize that that has to be part of the administration as well.
And I do think that, I do know that the members that posed some of those questions will expect a little more definitive answer before the vote on confirmation is done.
So, I thank you for your willingness to do this job. The hearings alone are terrible. But you're willingness to give up that part of your life to do an extremely difficult job for a lot of people and to manage an agency of such import. I congratulate you and thank you.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
REP. SOLIS: Thank you.
SEN. KENNEDY: Senator Sanders.
SEN. SANDERS: Very briefly, I just want to mention to Senator Enzi that Congresswoman Solis was not the only member of the House to have voted against that pension bill. I voted against it too. And in retrospect it was the right vote because, among other things, it allowed employers to discriminate against old workers by shifting to cash balanced pension plans that, in fact, could result in cuts in pensions by up to 50%. So, I think she cast the right vote as a matter of fact.
But I just, again, want to congratulate President Obama for his appointment and I think in front of us we have somebody who has the makings to be a great Secretary of Labor.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
SEN. KENNEDY: Well, thank you very much. Congresswoman Solis we want to express our real appreciation for your presence here today. I think as you go along with today you get the sense, and the real sense, and one that I share in the feeling that we need a real fighter for the workers in America. And we want someone that's going to be fair, obviously, for the workers and for all of those affected by your department. That's extraordinarily important. And we want to find ways in which we can work together.
The Senator Enzi mentioned both Republicans and Democrats, some of the challenges that remain out there. But as he has mentioned before and I have, we on this committee have found ways of working together. And I think you'd see over a period of years the work of this committee in terms of the workers interest has been extremely strong. And we have every intension to keep it that way.
So, we want to again thank you and we want to just say finally, I would say, that we come away from the hearing with a strong sense of your caring about these issues, opened the hearing talking about some of these issues and the plight of so many working families.
And I think in the course of the morning you've gotten that sense, from all the members, that we're here, in this committee, have a strong concern about what is going to happen to families here in our country. And we recognize the central challenges that we are facing.
We look forward to working closely with you. You have an extraordinary reputation. And you come to this job with an incredible amount of support. And want to continue to make sure you're going to get all the support that you need. And we invite you to tell us about the areas, as we move along, that you think that we can be most helpful to working families in this country.
Without further comment the committee will stand in recess.