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More Labor Speculation

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 politician."

It seems that, for the moment, this protracted selection is still up in the air.

--Seyward Darby