Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

Hilda L. Solis (2009-2013): Secretary of Labor

Hilda L. Solis was born on October 20, 1957, in Los Angeles, California, to a modest family of union workers. A lifelong resident of the San Gabriel Valley, Solis was raised in a household with six other siblings. Her mother, who was from Nicaragua, and her father, who was from Mexico, both fought tirelessly for many years for labor rights while working a number of blue collar jobs. Not surprisingly, her childhood in a unionist household helped lead her into becoming an ardent labor supporter.

Solis and her six siblings were often forced to be self reliant at an early age as her parents both worked long hours to keep the family financially afloat. Nonetheless, they believed in the power of education and would often stay up late teaching their children arithmetic using a jar of pinto beans. With her parents' support, Solis was the first in her family to graduate from college; she received her bachelor degree in political science from California State Polytechnic University in 1979. In 1981, she received her master of public administration from the University of Southern California.

Quickly entering the public sector, Solis began her career in government as an assistant in the White House Office of Hispanic Affairs in the administration of President Jimmy Carter and then as an analyst with the Office of Management and Budget. Her career as an elected official began in 1985 when she won a seat on the Rio Hondo Community College Board of Trustees where she served for seven years. In 1992, she was elected to the California State Assembly, and two years later in 1994, she was elected to the California State Senate, the first Hispanic woman to become a state senator. With a strong interest in labor rights, Solis chaired the Senate Industrial Relations Committee where in 1996 she pushed to increase the state's minimum hourly wage from $4.25 to $5.75. In addition to her labor commitments, Solis was also well known for her efforts to improve environmental conditions and to fight against domestic violence, a subject for which she authored seventeen different state laws.

In 2000, Solis continue her upward climb winning election to become the U.S. Representative for the 32nd District of California in Congress. In an unlikely turn of event, Solis defeated nine-term Republican incumbent Matthew G. Martinez in a landslide. With a longstanding reputation for being an advocate for low-wage workers and her close relationship with organized labor, Solis was Barack Obama's choice for secretary of the Department of Labor. She was confirmed on February 24, 2009, and served in Obama's administration until she resigned in January 2013.