Wednesday, January 28, 2009

New York Times Backs Hilda Solis

Hilda! Hilda! Hilda!
The New York Times

Unemployment is rising as mass layoffs grip the nation.

Millions of Americans who need full time jobs can only find part-time work.

Waves of professionals and college graduates are working at jobs beneath the levels associated with their career and educational achievement, which is bad for them and bad for the workers who would otherwise have gotten those jobs.

The employment picture didn't suddenly turn dismal. The Bush years saw the worst job growth of any business cycle since World War II. Wages stagnated, even as labor productivity rose, which means that the gains from work found their way not into paychecks, but into corporate profits, share prices and dividends. As a result, income inequality has reached levels not seen since the Gilded Age.

If there was ever a time the nation needed a strong secretary of labor, this is it. And yet, for the past several days, at least one Republican senator has been using a parliamentary procedure to hold up the confirmation of Congresswoman Hilda Solis (D-California), President Obama's choice for labor secretary. The "hold" tactic delays a full vote by the Senate on the nomination, pending, well, pending what?

Apparently, some Republicans were frustrated by Ms. Solis's less than forthcoming answers about the administration's plans for the Employee Free Choice Act, a bill that would make it easier for workers to organize unions. She was evasive, as nominees typically are when asked to commit their boss to controversial issues during a confirmation hearing.

But for any senators to claim that they can't make up their minds until they have a better answer directly from Ms. Solis, or from the stacks of written questions she must now complete as if doing penance, is ridiculous.

Ms. Solis voted for the union organizing bill when it passed the House in 2007. Senate Republicans prevented the bill from coming to a vote that same year. But then-Senator Obama voted in favor of bringing it to the Senate floor and he supported it during the campaign.

It's safe to assume that Mr. Obama and Ms. Solis support unions. And assuming that Mr. Obama's campaign promise is enacted into law, it will become easier than it has been for workers to form unions.

And that would be a good thing, because strong labor unions help to push wages up by bargaining for more of the pie to go for workers' wages, rather than for bonuses and profits for executives and shareholders.

The delay in confirming Ms. Solis isn't because the Senate needs to know more. It's a way for Republican senators to score tough-guy points with business constituents who are driven to distraction by the thought of unions.

The betting is that Ms. Solis will be confirmed. It's past time to get on with it.