U.S. Rep. Hilda Solis has not yet been confirmed as Labor secretary, but the race to replace her is in full swing.
This week, candidate Judy Chu, chairwoman of the state Board of Equalization, received a coveted distinction in local politics: a nod from the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor.
"She's got a tremendous labor background," said Ed Rendon, political director for the Teamsters Joint Council in Los Angeles, which is a member of the federation's Committee on Political Education. He said his union separately endorsed Chu earlier this month.
"I am so grateful that they placed their trust in me," said Chu, a former teacher who added that she has worked for the labor movement for decades, leading rallies, pressuring employers to use unionized janitorial services and sponsoring legislation to protect workers from on-the-job heat illnesses.
The California Federation of Labor technically still has to OK the Los Angeles group's endorsement, but Chu has a 100% voting record with the group from her time in the state Assembly.
Chu has been heavily campaigning for the seat since she announced her intention to run Dec. 22 and said she has been endorsed by San Gabriel Valley politicians, including school board members and state legislators.
She will be facing State Sen. Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles) in the race for the 32nd Congressional District seat, which covers East Los Angeles and the San Gabriel Valley.
Cedillo, who spent 15 years working in the Los Angeles labor movement, shrugged off the federation's choice.
"At the end of the day, people know me as a public servant who delivers and not as a politician," he said.
He said rank-and-file union members still will stop to thank him for the rallies and organization drives he led while working for the Service Employees International Union.
Cedillo, who is known for his opposition to the anti-immigrant Proposition 187 and for efforts to allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver's licenses, said he has collected his own endorsements from local politicians, including the mayors of Monterey Park, Baldwin Park, Azusa and Irwindale, as well as Los Angeles City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo.
Voters may be called to vote in a primary as soon as March. By state law, a special election to fill the seat must be held within five months of its becoming vacant.
Special elections generally have very low turnouts, raising the importance of campaign work by the labor federation, which can recruit an army of members to make phone calls and mobilize voters.
Maria Elena Durazo, head of the federation, said her group has not decided whether it will campaign for Chu.
Solis' staff said she would not endorse a candidate.
"All of her efforts have been focused on the confirmation and transition process," said Sonia Melendez, Solis' spokeswoman.
But State Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles) said Chu touted Solis' support during a private meeting at an East Los Angeles coffee shop last month.
"She said 'I have Hilda's blessing' and that Hilda would be making calls to the unions," said Romero, who at the time was weighing a bid for the seat. Romero said she scoffed at the notion that Solis' recommendation would guarantee union support.
"She said: I don't think the unions would want to upset the new secretary of Labor," said Romero, who decided shortly after that to instead seek the post of state superintendent of public instruction.
Romero has endorsed Cedillo.
In an interview, Chu denied telling Romero that Solis, a Democrat from El Monte, would make calls on her behalf, but acknowledged saying that her backing would be helpful.
"I think that what I said was that Hilda would clearly be considered the leader in labor and for this nation and that her opinion would be very much respected," Chu said.
Although Solis hasn't publicly endorsed her, Chu intimated that Solis was in her corner.
"Let's put it this way: She and I are very close friends, and her staff is my campaign staff, and her fundraiser is my fundraiser, and many of her supporters are my supporters," she said.
Endorsements aside, both candidates said the contest would be about who can deliver needed services for the working-class district -- including transportation, housing and education.
In addition, ethnicity may come into play.
Nearly half the district's registered voters are Latino, and about 13% are Asian.