| MIAMI, March 2
MIAMI, March 2 After just five days on the job,
U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis made her first public speech
as a member of President Barack Obama's cabinet at an open
meeting with labor unions on Monday and said "there's a new
sheriff in town."
Solis, a California politician with a working class
background and immigrant parents, has been welcomed by American
labor unions that complain workers' rights were trampled and
worker protection laws ignored during the eight-year presidency
of George W. Bush.
Solis heard pleas for jobs, health care, education and
better protection for workers from a teacher, a nurse and a
painter at the forum, held at a church in Overtown, an
inner-city community in Miami.
"My goal and my dream in this country is to have my own
home," said the painter, Natanael Aburto, a 28-year-old
immigrant from Nicaragua who supports a wife and two children.
"But I'm afraid that tomorrow I might not have a job."
It was a common refrain in Miami, a city where employment
boomed during the peak of the U.S. housing frenzy, but among
the hardest hit in the collapse. Florida unemployment has
doubled in the last two years, reaching around 8 percent.
Solis made no new pledges on job creation during the forum,
which was arranged by the AFL-CIO, the largest U.S. labor
federation representing unions with 11 million members.
Its executive council is holding its annual meeting in
Miami this week. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden was scheduled to
address the council on Thursday, the union said.
HEALTHCARE AND "GREEN" JOBS
But Solis reiterated the Obama administration's vow to pump
money into healthcare and "green" jobs, and said she intended
to enforce labor laws ignored in recent years.
"We're there to help provide protection for those in the
workplace, our employees. So yes, I think you can rest assured
there is a new sheriff in town," she said to raucous cheers
from the crowd of about 400 mostly union members, some of whom
waved signs reading "Time for Change."
She told the union members she would fully implement the
Employee Free Choice Act if it becomes law. The union-backed
measure would allow workers to organize a union by signing
authorization cards instead of holding a formal vote.
Asked after the forum what kind of message she was sending
to big business by making her first public appearance at a
union meeting, Solis said she was not going to "go after"
companies but vowed to work in partnership with them to help
workers get good-paying jobs.
"If you take care of an employee, that employee will
produce. Productivity by our workforce, especially union
members, has increased," she said. "But we don't see the same
value in terms of their wages going up. So there has to be some
morality placed there."
AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said unions have high hopes
for the new secretary of labor.
"I say the same thing about the secretary as I have said
about Barack Obama. I trust Barack Obama," he said. "I believe
what he told us during the campaign are promises that he's
going to stick to, whether it's healthcare, financial security,
employee free choice, education. The list is long."