By  on December 18, 2008

WASHINGTON — President-elect Barack Obama is set to nominate former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk for U.S. trade representative and Rep. Hilda Solis (D., Calif.) as secretary of labor.

Both cabinet-level posts will oversee agencies that craft policies and regulations affecting the fashion industry, from international trade to domestic manufacturing.

The nominations are expected to be announced at a news conference today, said a Democratic aide, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Kirk developed a pro-trade reputation while serving as mayor of Dallas from 1995 until 2001, expressing strong support for the North American Free Trade Agreement in his inauguration speech, according to press reports. Obama has said he wants to strictly enforce labor and environmental provisions in existing labor agreements, including the possible renegotiation of NAFTA, and insist on their inclusion in any future pacts.

Kirk’s name surfaced this week after Rep. Xavier Becerra (D., Calif.) dropped out of the running for the trade chief slot. Kirk is unknown to most industry lobbyists and Washington trade veterans.

If confirmed by the Senate, Kirk will carry out the president’s trade agenda, lead trade negotiations with foreign countries and act as the enforcer of trade agreements.

Solis, whose agency will enforce wage, hour and worker safety laws, such as overtime and minimum wage, was first elected to the House in 2000. She would be the first Hispanic woman to serve as labor secretary.

Solis’ tenure in the House has focused largely on affordable health care and protecting the environment, but her exposure to sweatshop labor in the apparel industry has deep roots. As a California state senator in 1995, Solis represented the city of El Monte, which was the scene of one of the most egregious abuses of apparel workers in modern times.

The El Monte sweatshop case, in which federal officials uncovered more than 70 Thai immigrant workers stitching clothing in virtual servitude for several U.S. apparel brands, spawned a national movement against apparel sweatshop abuses headed by then-Labor Secretary Robert Reich in the Clinton administration.

Solis held hearings on the El Monte case and later sponsored a joint liability bill that would make manufacturers financially responsible for all wage violations by their sewing contractors, including industrial homework and failure to pay minimum wage and overtime. She also led the battle to increase the state’s minimum wage from $4.25 to $5.75 an hour in 1996.

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