The legacy of Hilda L. Solis’ U.S. Department of Labor

Secretary Hilda L. Solis, a former California congresswoman, came to the Labor Department in 2009 with progressive credentials.  As she steps down from this post, we review the following highlights from the U.S. Department of Labor, under the leadership of Solis, during the year 2010-2011.  For more detail, check out the DOL’s website:

  • Preparing America's Workforce: The Department served 39.7 million Americans through the Employment and Training Administration's programs from July 2009 through June 2010, including:
  • 22 million who received career counseling or help with job search, including resume assistance;
  • 8.9 million adults who participated in more comprehensive job training programs, including skills training;.
  • 685,000 workers who were placed into new jobs through the Workforce Investment Act Adult and Dislocated Worker programs.
  • Of the 431,722 youth who were placed into jobs, 33,445 earned a high school diploma, GED, post-secondary degree, or certificates, and 44,000 were Job Corps graduates.
  • Transitioning Veterans Into the Workforce: Via the Department, specialists conduct outreach to employers and engage in advocacy efforts with hiring executives to increase employment opportunities for veterans, encourage the hiring of disabled Veterans, and generally assist veterans to gain and retain employment. The Department's Veterans' Employment and Training Service (VETS) served 1.674 million veterans in 2010, assisting 473,700 who entered into employment.
  • Investing in a Clean Energy Future: Through the Recovery Act, the Department invested $500 million in 189 green jobs training programs to make careers in solar, wind, biofuels and other clean energy sources available to Americans throughout the United States.
  • On-the-Job Training (OJT): In June 2010, the Department announced $75 million in Recovery Act funds for OJT National Emergency Grants (NEGS). OJT NEGs are a one-time funding source to support on-the-job training for dislocated workers experiencing prolonged unemployment, especially in geographic areas severely impacted by the recession.
  • Health Care Sector and High Growth Grants: The Department awarded approximately $220 million in Recovery Act-funded competitive grants to support recruitment, retention and career pathways in the health care sector and other high growth areas. Also, the Department is helping California and Florida design pilot projects that explore approaches to supporting and training Community Health Workers.
  • Protecting the Safety and Health of the American Worker: In April 2010, the Department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) collected the largest fine ($50.6 million) in the agency's history against British Petroleum (BP) for failing to comply fully with an agreement settling citations issued following a refinery explosion that killed 15 people and injured 170 more in Texas. OSHA also launched its severe violator enforcement program in 2010. It also provided over 26,000 small businesses with free on-site compliance assistance, and responded to over 200,000 requests for information by phone and email. The agency held the first-ever Latino Worker Safety Summit to address safety and health issues in this community, which suffers the highest rates of work-related injuries and deaths in the Nation.
  • Keeping Miners Safe: During 2010-2011, the Mine Safety and Health Administration responded to the Upper Big Branch disaster by conducting impact inspections, placing appropriate mines on notice of a potential pattern of violations, seeking injunctive relief against mine operators that impede inspections or engage in a hazardous pattern of violation, pursuing scofflaw operators who fail to pay assessed penalties for violations, increasing education, outreach and compliance assistance, developing and revising safety and health standards to strengthen protections for miners, and implementing coordinated programs to end black lunch disease and eliminate violations that lead to catastrophic accidents.
  • Wages and Conditions for Farmworkers: By rewriting the regulations that govern the H-2A temporary agricultural program, the Department has strengthened worker protections and requirements for employers who are looking to bring non-immigrant foreign workers to the U.S. to perform agricultural labor or services of a temporary or seasonal nature. The Department must certify that no American workers are available for the job, and employers are required to pay all farm workers a fair and competitive wage, and to provide safe living conditions for all domestic and legal migrant farmworkers. In doing so, the Department attempts to protect not only immigrant farmworkers from exploitation but also similarly employed domestic workers from adverse effects on wages and working conditions.
  • Combating Child Labor: The Department's Wage and Hour Division published a Final Rule designed to protect working children from hazards in the workplace. The rule prohibits children under the age of 18 from engaging in unsafe occupations, such as door-to-door or street corner sales, operating chain saws, or working in poultry slaughtering. In addition, the Division implemented enhanced civil money penalties for child labor violations involving youth who are too young to be legally employed.
  • Providing For Your Family and Keeping What You Earn: The Department has expressed a commitment to fighting to ensure that workers are paid the hourly and overtime wages they've earned, workplaces are free of discrimination, retirement is secure, and insurance companies play by the rules. Workers who do their part can expect their employer to pay them the wages they have earned, and to keep their end of the bargain when it comes to health and retirement benefits.
  • Wage Enforcement, Education and Outreach: The Wage and Hour Division has worked hard to get workers their full paychecks by adding 300 new investigators over the past two years. Since January of 2009, the Department secured nearly $313 million in back wages for 517,000 workers. In April 2010, the division launched the "We Can Help" nationwide campaign that connects America's most vulnerable and low-wage workers with the broad array of services offered by the Department. To provide workers a better opportunity to seek redress for labor law violations and to pursue their right to private litigation, the Division established a local referral service with the American Bar Association to connect workers to attorneys who may be able to help.
  • Promoting Equal Pay and Opportunity for Working Women: By establishing the National Equal Pay Enforcement Task Force, a collaborative effort among the Labor Department, the Department of Justice and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Obama Administration will ensure strategic enforcement of pay discrimination cases.
  • Making Health Care More Affordable for Working Families: Through the Recovery Act, the Department implemented a new program to provide a subsidy to laid off workers to make it more affordable to extend their health care benefits. It's estimated that 23,794 Americans took advantage of the program, allowing these families to save an estimated $52,113,768. The Department responded to over 264,000 inquiries related to the COBRA subsidy which was implemented as part of the Recovery Act.
  • Putting Health Care Reform Into Action: Working with the Departments of Health and Human Services and Treasury, the Department has issued eight regulations, covering issues such as the elimination of preexisting conditions for children under age 19, internal and external appeals of benefit denials, the extension of coverage for children up to age 26, and a ban on rescissions. The Department also has issued other implementation guidance, including four technical releases and six sets of Frequently Asked Questions, to assist stakeholders with compliance.
  • Strengthening the Safety Net for the Unemployed: Since January 2009, the Department has ensured that 34 million Americans received the unemployment benefits they earned. And because of the modernization efforts in the Recovery Act, an estimated 200,000 unemployed Americans received benefits they would not have otherwise received.

We recognize Secretary Solis for her contribution to improving the lives of working people.

By Lisl Duncan

Legal Developments