FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Who Will Be the Next Secretary of Labor?

With Hilda Solis resigning as Labor Secretary (presumably, to run for LA County Board of Supervisors, the first step in the former congresswoman’s renewal of her political career), President Obama has the opportunity to appoint someone who can make a real difference. Not that Solis didn’t do her part. Given the hand she was dealt, she performed adequately.

Solis will be remembered for having added 250 field agents to the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division (which was reduced in manpower during George W. Bush’s administration). The W&H Division is the agency tasked with investigating unfair wage practices (e.g., failure to pay overtime or minimum wage), examples of which abound in the restaurant and carwash industries.

Still, competent as she was, organized labor’s support of Solis never rose above lukewarm. Although she was the daughter of immigrants, both union members, and worked diligently on behalf of Spanish-speaking workers, and her heart was clearly in the right place, Solis was never regarded as forceful or dynamic enough to lead labor into the Promised Land.

A cabinet secretary has a unique voice. She has the opportunity to take center stage, to seize the microphone and force the American people to listen to her explain the issues she views as most important. But Solis couldn’t or wouldn’t take that critical step. Labor wanted more of a gadfly, more of a public cheerleader—more of a loose cannon, like Joe Biden. Alas, Solis was simply not Bidenesque enough for them.

Before listing those who would make excellent candidates, we should omit those who, while intriguing, wouldn’t be realistic—either because they don’t have the administrative skills to run a huge government agency, or because it’s unlikely they would accept the job.

One who is clearly pro-worker, but lacks administrative skills, is mau-mau journalist Matt Taibbi. I’m a big fan of Matt’s. How cool would it be to have a defiantly pro-union polemicist as our Secretary of Labor? Not only would it be cause for jubilation within the AFL-CIO, it would be a salutary jolt to the American psyche. But that ain’t going to happen. Ever. If we think Joe Biden is opinionated, Taibbi would make Biden look like Calvin Coolidge.

Another person we can count out, unfortunately, is Clinton’s first-term Labor Secretary Robert Reich. While Reich would be an excellent choice, he probably wouldn’t take the job a second time. Brilliant and knowledgeable as he is (I interviewed him for my book), it’s unlikely Obama could pry him away from UC Berkeley, and even more unlikely he has forgotten the bitter internal battles he fought in the Clinton White House.

We should probably count out Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders as well. Even though Sanders, ideologically and sentimentally, is eminently qualified, the man wasn’t put on earth to oversee the day-to-day operations of a sprawling government agency. Sanders is a philosopher: a thinker, a dialectician, a moralist….not a bureaucrat.

Now let’s look at those who are qualified, and would likely accept.

If Obama is looking for a former congressman, he should consider Dennis Kucinich. Like Solis, Kucinich knows how to navigate the treacherous waters of the legislature, but unlike Solis, he’s pesky and persistent. Although Kucinich once ran for president, image-wise, he’s more suited for the cabinet. (Indeed, in this age of television, he comes off as the Anglo-Saxon version of Bobby Jindal).

If Obama is considering another woman, we suggest Randi Weingarten, president of the AFT (American Federation of Teachers). Weingarten has the toughness, the smarts, the administrative chops, and the requisite union background to hit the deck running. I know her casually. With her dedication to labor and her willingness to fight like a badger, she’d make an excellent Secretary.

If it’s another Latino, there’s John Perez, Democratic Speaker of the California State Assembly. Given that party politics in California is a brutal, back-stabbing, rough-and-tumble business, when an overweight (of Gov. Chris Christie proportions) openly gay Latino can rise all the way to Speaker, you have to figure the man is a bureaucratic genius. Plus, Perez used to be a union rep.

For straight-up, unadulterated union ideology, there’s Donald Fehr, former president of the baseball players association and currently head of the hockey players union. Anyone who knows Fehr will tell you he’s a quick learner, an inspirational leader, and a brilliant negotiator. I would love to see Fehr appointed.

Finally, as a wild card, Obama might consider Alan Rosenberg, former president of SAG’s (Screen Actors Guild) 140,000 members. Rosenberg, an accomplished actor himself, is a tough, charismatic political animal with fierce union loyalties. As for being up to the challenge, after having dealt with the monster egos and artistic temperaments of Hollywood, Washington D.C. would be a cakewalk.

David Macaray, a Los Angeles playwright and author (“It’s Never Been Easy:  Essays on Modern Labor,” 2nd Edition), was a former union rep. He can be reached at dmacaray@earthlink.net

More articles by:

David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is How To Win Friends and Avoid Sacred Cows.  He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

January 16, 2019
Patrick Bond
Jim Yong Kim’s Mixed Messages to the World Bank and the World
John Grant
Joe Biden, Crime Fighter from Hell
Alvaro Huerta
Brief History Notes on Mexican Immigration to the U.S.
Kenneth Surin
A Great Speaker of the UK’s House of Commons
Elizabeth Henderson
Why Sustainable Agriculture Should Support a Green New Deal
Binoy Kampmark
Trump, Bolton and the Syrian Confusion
Jeff Mackler
Trump’s Syria Exit Tweet Provokes Washington Panic
Barbara Nimri Aziz
How Long Can Nepal Blame Others for Its Woes?
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers’ Strike: When Just One Man Says, “No”
Cesar Chelala
Violence Against Women: A Pandemic No Longer Hidden
Kim C. Domenico
To Make a Vineyard of the Curse: Fate, Fatalism and Freedom
Dave Lindorff
Criminalizing BDS Trashes Free Speech & Association
Thomas Knapp
Now More Than Ever, It’s Clear the FBI Must Go
Binoy Kampmark
Dances of Disinformation: The Partisan Politics of the Integrity Initiative
Andrew Stewart
The Green New Deal Must be Centered on African American and Indigenous Workers to Differentiate Itself From the Democratic Party: Part Two
Edward Curtin
A Gentrified Little Town Goes to Pot
January 15, 2019
Patrick Cockburn
Refugees Are in the English Channel Because of Western Interventions in the Middle East
Howard Lisnoff
The Faux Political System by the Numbers
Lawrence Davidson
Amos Oz and the Real Israel
John W. Whitehead
Beware the Emergency State
John Laforge
Loudmouths against Nuclear Lawlessness
Myles Hoenig
Labor in the Age of Trump
Jeff Cohen
Mainstream Media Bias on 2020 Democratic Race Already in High Gear
Dean Baker
Will Paying for Kidneys Reduce the Transplant Wait List?
George Ochenski
Trump’s Wall and the Montana Senate’s Theater of the Absurd
Binoy Kampmark
Dances of Disinformation: the Partisan Politics of the Integrity Initiative
Glenn Sacks
On the Picket Lines: Los Angeles Teachers Go On Strike for First Time in 30 Years
Jonah Raskin
Love in a Cold War Climate
Andrew Stewart
The Green New Deal Must be Centered on African American and Indigenous Workers to Differentiate Itself From the Democratic Party
January 14, 2019
Kenn Orphan
The Tears of Justin Trudeau
Julia Stein
California Needs a 10-Year Green New Deal
Dean Baker
Declining Birth Rates: Is the US in Danger of Running Out of People?
Robert Fisk
The US Media has Lost One of Its Sanest Voices on Military Matters
Vijay Prashad
5.5 Million Women Build Their Wall
Nicky Reid
Lessons From Rojava
Ted Rall
Here is the Progressive Agenda
Robert Koehler
A Green Future is One Without War
Gary Leupp
The Chickens Come Home to Roost….in Northern Syria
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers’ Strike: “The Country Is Watching”
Sam Gordon
Who Are Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionists?
Weekend Edition
January 11, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Richard Moser
Neoliberalism: Free Market Fundamentalism or Corporate Power?
Paul Street
Bordering on Fascism: Scholars Reflect on Dangerous Times
Joseph Majerle III – Matthew Stevenson
Who or What Brought Down Dag Hammarskjöld?
Jeffrey St. Clair - Joshua Frank
How Tre Arrow Became America’s Most Wanted Environmental “Terrorist”
Andrew Levine
Dealbreakers: The Democrats, Trump and His Wall
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail