Radical Past of Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis

Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis listens as a professor explains some of the processes taught at the Wacker Institute during a tour of the facility Wednesday Oct. 3, 2012 in Chattanooga. Credit: AP

​This is a contribution by freelance writer Charles C. Johnson.

While you may know Hilda Solis as the current U.S. Labor Secretary, what you might not know is that she was once a left-wing politician with the backing of organized labor and radical causes. Research into the student newspaper of East Los Angeles College, one of the colleges of her former Los Angeles congressional district, reveal as much.

Solis’s activism, in fact, wasn’t always backed by the keenest of social science and often reflected a far left viewpoint. Take these few examples:

  • August 25th, 1999, she participated in an “environmental justice” lecture.
  • In October 1987 she participated in a Compton Community College conference entitled “Women Moving Progressively Into the 21st Century” alongside accused cop killer accomplice and Communist Angela Davis.
  • Her most strident activism came on behalf of affirmative action and increases in the minimum wage law. On October 9, 1996, Solis, then California’s first Latina state senator, equated support for the minimum wage law to support for civil rights at a pro-racial preferences rally, according to accounts in the Campus News, the student newspaper of East Los Angeles College.

At that rally, Solis linked opposition to efforts to undo racial preferences to a minimum wage ballot initiative. “Solis asked people to support Proposition 210, the minimum wage bill. It’s not that different [from opposing Proposition 209, the anti-racial preferences ballot initiative], because most of the people who get minimum wage, are minorities,” wrote Laurie Epinosa for the student newspaper on October 9, 1996.

Proposition 210 was sponsored by the Living Wage Coalition, which was underwritten by the textile workers’ union—UNITE. Solis served both as the chair of the advisory committee to the Living Wage Coalition and as chair of the California Senate Industrial Relations Committee.

Unfortunately for Solis, however, “living wage” ideology denies basic economics. Its proponents want to mandate an increase in the minimum wage artificially to meet an individual’s “basic needs,” which in practice winds up being whatever the unions determine such “living wages” to be.

In fact, minimum wage increases usually lead to unemployment for those it is designed to help. Indeed, decades of economic research and empirical analysis confirm that boosting the minimum wage beyond what low-skilled workers are worth, wind up pricing more low-skilled workers out of a job. “I have often said that the most anti-negro law on the books of this land is the minimum wage rate,” noted Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman.

One of Solis’s first ever bills was to increase the minimum wage. SB 500, which was filed in 1995, sought to raise the state minimum wage of $4.25 per hour to not less than $5 per hour on June 1, 1996, and to not less than $5.75 per hour a year later. After her bill passed the Senate, Solis wasn’t satisfied. “We should be offering a living wage, not a minimum wage,” she told the San Jose Mercury News on July 25, 1995.

So insistent was Solis, that during a meeting of the Assembly Labor and Employment Committee, she bitterly fought an amendment to her minimum wage bill that would include a 15% income tax cut for all Californians, as well as a provision to allow more flexible work schedules. The bill also provided protection for entry-level jobs from elimination by establishing a temporary “training wage” to help those who might be displaced by a minimum wage hike. Solis killed her own bill, decrying Republicans for being “deaf to the pleas of working families who deserve a living wage.”

Solis backed other anti-small business initiatives, as well, including an effort to expand workers’ comp benefits beyond the current cap of $490 a week. It was too much even for liberal governor Gray Davis who vetoed it.

Undaunted, Solis ran for congress and, with the help of her union allies, overwhelmingly defeated a pro-free trade, eighteen-year incumbent to win the Democrat primary. “I wouldn’t be here, were it not for my friends in the labor movement,” Solis declared in her victory speech before a labor-heavy crowd in El Monte.

—–

“Solis said we should thank God that we had people like Cesar Chavez, and Dr. Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy,” Espinoza wrote about Solis at the October 1996 rally, linking supporting for what she called civil rights to support for a minimum wage.

The thanks didn’t end there. “Solis graduated from Cal Poly and said if it wasn’t for Affirmative Action, she wouldn’t be where she is now,” Espinoza wrote.

Solis “spoke of the need for everyone to vote ‘No’ on Prop. 209. ‘Without affirmative action, the doors will be closed to minorities, which not only includes people of color, but women as well.’” In fact, the passage of Proposition 209 saw more blacks and Hispanics graduate in the larger California college system than under the previous pro-racial quotas regime, according to Heather MacDonald of City Journal.

Given her views on wages and affirmative action, and her ties to the unions, the country could be in for a few surprises in Obama next four years. We ought to be very leery of her economic judgment.