03/28/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

SEIU's Stern: Solis' Absence Hurt Workers On Stimulus

One of the nation's most prominent union leaders says that working Americans were deprived a voice during the debate over the stimulus package and housing bill because Republicans in the Senate had obstructed the nomination of Labor Secretary Hilda Solis.

In an interview with the Huffington Post shortly after Solis was confirmed on Tuesday afternoon, SEIU header Andy Stern expressed rejoice that "a child of immigrants who went to a public college" could rise to the upper echelons of executive office.

But his glee was tempered, a bit, by anger with Republicans in the Senate for holding up the Solis nomination for weeks over concerns about her commitment to the Employee Free Choice Act. Calling the delaying tactics "the same old Washington that voters are trying to move past," Stern said that Solis' absence deprived the early administration debates of a much-needed working class anchor.

"I think working people did not have an additional voice in her absence and particularly as it related to some of the issues of training, unemployment, insurance," said Stern. "Her voice would have been a very important and welcomed voice in a community of obviously very different voices. And I think her voice was missing and we are pretty proud that it is now there."

Looking forward, Stern expressed confidence that Congress, with Solis and President Obama steering the ship, would move forward on EFCA, a union priority that is bitterly opposed by the business community. He would not, however, name a definitive date or timeline by which he expected the legislation to be considered.

"In the end, we have to pass this bill in the House and the Senate. I'm not a congressional strategist," he said, "[but] I would say that in the end both houses are going to get to vote. And whatever way makes sense -- where it starts and where it ends is really not that important, as long as in the end everybody understands the importance of getting this job done. Which I believe they do."

I also asked Stern for his response to a number of recent revelations concerning recipients of bailout money using those funds on gratuitous or excessive items (junkets, bonuses, and the like). His response was the most visceral of the bunch, saying that legal recourse was likely the most sensible form of action. If it meant putting people found guilty in jail, so be it.

"I think people need to be prosecuted," said Stern. "I think this is an incredibly serious moment. I think the banks abused the trust that people had in them by making incredibly risky investments without appropriate safeguards and regulations. And if people continue to do that, the only appropriate response I think should be prosecution and, if found guilty, throw people in jail. People are tired of this."