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Profile on Hilda L. Solis

The first Latina to become Secretary of Labor of the U.S.A. is a tireless defender of workers? rights, this appointment is the culmination of a life of action and constant work to bring justice and well being to those who need it the most.

Hilda Solis was born and raised in Los Angeles, of immigrant parents, who are models of a thirst for justice, work ethic, and pride in their Latino roots, virtues she represents in her transparent, fruitful political career. Hilda Solis has been making history since 1994, when she became the first Latina woman to be a member of the State Senate of California; the first Latina woman to represent the San Gabriel Valley and the youngest on the Senate. Today, having Hilda Solis as Secretary of Labor is a transcendent act for the country, being the first Latina woman to have served in this position.

President Obama named Hilda Solis as Secretary of Labor on January 20, 2009. The Senate confirmed her position on February 24, with 80 votes in favor and only 17 against.

She began her political career during Jimmy Carter?s administration in the Office of Hispanic Affairs at the White House, as executive editor of an informative bulletin, and later in the administration of Ronald Reagan, she ascended to Management Analyst in the Division of Civil Rights. Her first public job was in 1985 when she was elected to the board of the Rio Hondo Community College. She continued her political career offering her services to the State Assembly for the 57th Congressional District of California. In 1984 Solis became a member of the California State Senate, the first Latina to represent the San Gabriel Valley and the youngest; she was re-elected with a surprising number of votes. In 1996, as president of the Committee of Industrial Relations of the State of California, she headed up a battle to raise the minimum wage in California; she generated a record quantity of state law projects (17!), meant to combat domestic violence. She was a member of the State Senate for the 24th Congressional District and member of the House of Representatives for the 32nd Congressional District until she took the position of Secretary of Labor in February, at a very critical time with enormous challenges, but the entire country believes in her skill, and knowledge to find lasting solutions.

Hilda Solis was born of a very humble but hard-working family. Her father, Raul Solis, immigrated from Mexico and lived in the San Gabriel Valley working at the Quemetco factory where batteries were recycled. In Mexico Raul was the head of the Teamsters union, whose primary objective was the well being of its members, and to generate, through the union, an open dialogue between employee and employer. Her mother, Juana Sequeira was from Nicaragua, after immigrating she met her future husband at a citizenship class, they married and raised a lovely family of seven children in La Puente. Hilda is the third of four sisters and two brothers, they were educated and raised in this city.

Their father also got involved in the union in the valley, fighting to get health improvements for the workers. When her children were all enrolled in school, their mother began to work for Mattel; she did so for twenty years and she was a member of the United Rubber Workers. She was emphatic about the importance of a good education. She was a fervent Catholic.

As a child, Hilda would help her mother take care of her younger siblings. Hilda graduated from La Puente High School and felt let down due to the lack of support from the school for continuing with a college education. She, in her intent to inculcate a desire to learn more in her siblings, always took them to the library and gave them attractive books to read and asked them to follow her example. Hilda was the first of her family to attend the Polytechnic University of California in Pomona and she was able to do so thanks to a program that helped students with low financial resources and those who were the first in their family to enroll at a university. She paid for her education with Federal scholarships and with the scarce resources of a part-time job. She received her degree in Political Science in 1979. Two years later, in 1981, she got a Masters in Public Administration from USC.

She began her political career during the administration of Jimmy Carter at the Office of Hispanic Affairs in the White House where she was executive editor of an informative bulletin which was a part of her academic program. At the beginning of the Ronald Reagan administration, she was raised to the position of Management Analyst in the Administration and Budget, in the Division of Civil Rights, because of a difference in politics, she left the position that same year. ?Our father always told us it was important to defend our rights, regardless of who we were or where we came from, that we should hold our head up high, with dignity and respect,? said Hilda to the California Journal in 2001.

She met Sam H. Sayyad, her future husband in Washington D.C. Today her husband has a mechanic shop in Irwindale, California. The couple lives in a modest home in El Monte, not far from where she was raised.

Upon returning to California she was a director for a program designed to help young people with low resources prepare for the university. In 1985 she was elected by the Administrative Council to the Rio Hondo Community College Board and re-elected in 1989. During this period as a counselor, she fought to improve professional preparation and she sought to increase the number of positions held by minorities and women. She became involved in several chambers of commerce in California and several women and Latina organizations. She was awarded in 1991 when she was named to the Insurance Commission of Los Angeles by the county?s supervisor, Gloria Molina, her political mentor. Besides she was chief of Art Torres? Senate office.

She ran for the State Assembly election. She had the support of Gloria Molina and Congress Woman Barbara Boxer and during her campaign she concentrated on visiting citizens of her district at their homes; her mother offered the campaign volunteers burritos. She won among three democratic candidates in the general election for the state assembly. She was one of the seven Latinos who won office in the assembly, one of the most liberal and diverse.

During her mandate as state representative, she played an important role in the debate over illegal immigration in the country, approving a law permitting illegal immigrants to enroll in California?s universities as long as they were residents of the state. She supported workers and was against the tobacco industry, in support of a law that prohibited employees from smoking at the work site. She was a member of several committees dealing with education, including a new committee regarding water pollution and trash.

When Art Torres, left his position in the state Senate and the 24th district of California, Hilda took his place, becoming the first Latina woman to be a member of the state assembly, the first woman to represent the San Gabriel Valley and the youngest senate member. She was re-elected in 1998 by 74% of the vote. ?She will be a national star. Solis is one of the most stable people I know,? said Art Torres, President of the Democratic Party of California.

She wrote 17 law proposals, regarding domestic violence during her term at the state senate and she dealt with topics of health, work and education. She defined herself as being party to the power of government, if the projects were good, and improve the quality of life.? In 1995 she proposed a law to increase the minimum wage from $4.25 to $5.75 per hour. Business organizations and the restaurant industry opposed the new law. When the governor, Pete Wilson vetoed it, Solis organized a successful campaign to transform the proposal into a popular initiative the following year, spending $50,000 of her own electoral funds and recruiting support from the unions. The proposition?s success gave her an invincible reputation and other states followed with the similar propositions. She took charge of the labor committee and she established herself as loyal to the interests of workers, but she also made sure to have a good relationship with the Republicans on the committee. She arranged public meetings with great visibility regarding the application of labor laws after a roundup at a factory that exploited 70 laborers from Thailand. She called several textile factories to ask for an explanation and she supported a harsh application of laws who exploit laborers.
Ray Hanes, Republican State Senator said: ?Solis was a committed liberal and she put the labor union in her pocket,? Roy Hurtt, leader of the Republican Party in the state senate said, ?Regardless of not seeing things the same way, she is very respected. I give her a lot of credit. She?s well informed and knows her subjects well.?

The Congresswoman has spent the majority of two decades defending workers? rights, she submitted the Employee Free Choice Act through which employees could form unions that helped them negotiate with their employers. ?Workers who have a union receive good salaries, that money stays in the community, and helps create a vibrant economy, it helps the worker send his children to college as my parents did? and eventually, they may even get an outstanding job with the government,? said Hilda Solis to the Washington Post in December 2008.

Some of Hilda Solis? accomplishments are:
-Maintain the environment: she was the first woman to receive the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award in 2000 for her pioneering work in environmental justice. Her environmental legislation in California passed in 1999, was the first of its kind in the nation to become law.

-Promote clean energy: she created Green Jobs and granted funds for summer training for the unemployed, youth at risk and those who found themselves below the poverty level.

-Give more people access to health care; protect the environment; improve the quality of life for workers.

Some of her awards:
-She was named in 2007 to the Helsinki Commission and also the Mexico-U.S.A. interparliamentary Group

-She was elected Vice President of the General Committee of the Helsinki Commission on Democracy, Human Rights and Humanitarian Issues. Hilda Solis was the only official elected from the nation to be part of that committee and she received many other recognitions.

?The confirmation of Hilda Solis is an immense victory: finally Americans will have a Secretary of Labor who represents workers and not presidents of lucrative companies,? said John Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO.

?Men and women workers you now have a secretary on whom you can count on and know that she will fight for you because she understands personally the challenges faced by the workers of a global economy,? says Andy Severo, director of the SEIU.

Filed Under: Outstanding Person

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