DECEMBER 17, 2008
Rumors about who will be Obama's labor secretary, one of the
final Cabinet appointments, are appearing around the Web. Wall
Street Journal reports that the top contenders seem to be Harley Shaiken, a Berkeley professor, and Rosa
DeLauro, a Connecticut
congresswoman. The WSJ report says previous contenders Mary Beth Maxwell and
Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm are fading.
(Fox reported a few hours ago that Granholm, an economic
adviser to the transition, was still a top contender. But a Granholm
spokeswoman told the Detroit Free Press
today, "The governor has made it clear she does not want to be considered for
an appointment at this time." It was, to date, the most vehement public denial of her
interest in the job.)
While not raising serious concerns among labor leaders, neither Shaiken nor DeLauro has the star power of some other
Cabinet members Obama's already selected. Shaiken is a labor scholar, with a focus on
the U.S.-Mexico border and Latin America. A
source and labor expert who knows David Bonior, the Obama adviser once
considered a shoo-in for the secretary role, said today that Shaiken and Bonior
are close friends. "When David was in Congress, Harley was very central to
him," the source said, adding that Shaiken has also done work for the Center
for American Progress, the think tank from which several Obama administration
officials have been pulled. "I wouldn't be surprised if he does have an inside
track." But, while Shaiken knows labor issues through and through, some union leaders might be skeptical of his appointment because he's from the Ivory Tower.
"Academics, no matter how supportive they've been [of labor issues], always
cause a certain queasiness in labor quarters," the source said.
DeLauro has been a congresswoman since 1990 and currently
sits on the labor, health and human services, and education subcommittee of the
appropriations committee. She's been a leader on health policy and workers'
rights, sponsoring legislation to guarantee employees' sick leave and equal pay
for men and women. She previously served as the executive director of EMILY's
List and is the second-highest ranking woman in the House. Earlier this year,
she came to the
defense of New Haven
labor unions, which were protesting food services giant Aramark's treatment of
workers. So, while she may not be a labor insider with strong ties to Michigan and other union
hubs, she's reliably progressive on the issues. "You want someone who knows how
to work the Hill, and she does more so than Harley," the labor expert added. "I can see [unions] preferring to sitting down with a
It seems that, for the moment, this protracted selection is
still up in the air.