Obama Cabinet Pick's Labor Clashes

Penny Pritzker (Saul Loeb/Getty Images)
Penny Pritzker (Saul Loeb/Getty Images)

(The Root) — Firmly putting to rest any questions about whether he is willing to tap minorities or women for major leadership and Cabinet posts in his second term, President Obama is poised to nominate longtime donor, friend and businesswoman Penny Pritzker to be his next secretary of commerce. The president has nominated minorities and women to Cabinet posts in the last month, among them Sally Jewell, who was recently confirmed as secretary of the interior, and Anthony Foxx, who was nominated to be secretary of transportation this week.


But Pritzker's nomination is particularly significant. If she is confirmed, she will join Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel as one of the most influential members of the president's Cabinet, representing U.S. business interests domestically and worldwide.  

For this reason, Pritzker's nomination is not without controversy. An heiress to the Hyatt hotel chain, she serves on the company's board. The corporation has repeatedly clashed with labor unions, meaning that Pritzker could end up being the first Obama Cabinet nominee to face greater scrutiny and opposition from Democrats than from Republicans.

She has also clashed with teachers unions in Chicago while sitting on the city's board of education. Perhaps this potential scrutiny explains why, according to reports, it took months for the president to woo Pritzker into accepting the nomination. It also shines a spotlight on the complexities of striving for diversity in high-profile roles. It has been reported that the president wanted to nominate Pritzker four years ago but she declined, citing her family.

In addition to its storied history in the business world, the Pritzker family is also well known for its philanthropy, particularly in Chicago. The family is also known for its appearances in the gossip pages. Former child actress Liesel Pritzker, famous for roles in The Little Princess and Air Force One, sued her cousins over her trust fund. According to reports, the settlement from that lawsuit and another involving the family resulted in the Pritzkers being the most well-represented family on the Forbes 400.

Keli Goff is The Root’s special correspondent. Follow her on Twitter