Perez, Obama's Nominee for Labor Secretary Says He Will Defend Workers' Safety Rights

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By Stephen Lee

Thomas Perez, President Obama's nominee to become the next secretary of labor, said he would seek a balance of protecting worker safety while also encouraging economic growth during an April 18 confirmation hearing.

“Job safety and job growth are not mutually exclusive,” Perez told the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. “It is not necessary to choose between one and the other.”

When asked what his highest priority would be as labor secretary, Perez said, “Jobs, jobs, and jobs. I believe it's critically important to get Americans back to work, and I believe the Department of Labor can play a critical role.”

Sens. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and David Vitter (R-La.) have publicly opposed Perez's nomination, accusing him of leaning too heavily on the side of racial minorities and undocumented persons in voting and immigration matters. Vitter has said he will block the nomination. Vitter's office could not be immediately reached for comment.

Vitter told BNA in an e-mail that he is “still extremely suspicious of Thomas Perez' record and plan to demand a 60-vote threshold if his nomination comes to the full Senate.”

Perez is the assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division. Prior to that, he served as Maryland's secretary of labor from 2006 to 2009 (43 OSHR 272, 3/21/13).

Nominee's Views on Regulation Queried

Under questioning from Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), Perez affirmed that he would comply with Executive Order 13,563, which mandates retrospective analyses of regulations currently on the books to determine whether any should be eliminated.

When asked by Roberts whether he knew of any Labor Department regulations that should be struck, Perez said, “I would want to take a very careful look. I take the executive order very seriously.”

Roberts then asked Perez if he would commit to upholding the Labor Department's 2012 withdrawal of a rule that would have increased its oversight of jobs children can perform in agriculture, referring to it as part of a “Katrina of regulations” coming from the Obama administration. Perez said he would “look forward to learning more about that issue” but also that he has no intention of pursuing it (42 OSHR 401, 5/3/12).

Roberts also asked whether Perez would commit to upholding the formal rulemaking process set forth in the Administrative Procedure Act that calls for notice and a 60-day comment period, rather than the “new world of sub-regulatory guidance,” in which he said agencies release guidance online without regulated entities being aware of it.

“I'm a strong believer in transparency, and you certainly have my commitment, if confirmed, that we will follow all of the protocols so that we can ensure that every voice is heard in a reasonable way,” Perez said.

Republicans Probe DOJ Deal

Republicans on the committee probed Perez's involvement in a 2011 deal struck between the Justice Department and the City of St. Paul, Minn., in which the city agreed to drop a housing discrimination case against a group of property owners that would have gone to the Supreme Court, in exchange for the department's agreement not to join a pair of private lawsuits alleging that the city had failed to use $180 million in federal dollars to help low-income residents find jobs.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), ranking member on the committee, called the agreement “an extraordinary amount of wheeling and dealing outside the responsibilities of the assistant attorney general for civil rights.”

On April 17, a group of 26 Republican House members sent a letter to the Senate urging them to vote against Perez's nomination, saying he has “consistently shown himself to be discriminatory in his approach to enforcement of the law” and that he has “ignored the law when it suited his political agenda.”

Harkin Defends Perez's Record

Harkin said he thought it was “clear the department made the right call [in the St. Paul matter]. The evidence clearly shows that you acted ethically and appropriately at all times.”

The committee will meet in executive session April 25 to further consider Perez's nomination.

On April 22, however, the Republican members of the committee sent a letter to Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who chairs the panel, requesting that the executive session be postponed until they are given more information about the St. Paul case by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and Perez provides personal e-mails while conducting government business.

In response, Harkin wrote his own letter, noting that extensive information about the St. Paul matter has already been provided, and that the Justice Department has already reviewed Perez' personal e-mails. Harkin further wrote that the committee vote on Perez' nomination would go through as scheduled on April 25.

“As our country continues to move down the road to economic recovery, the work of the Department of Labor will become even more critical,” Harkin said in his opening statement during the confirmation hearing.“The department will play a vital role in determining what kind of recovery we have--a recovery that benefits only a select few, or one that rebuilds a strong American middle class, where everyone who works hard and plays by the rules can build a better life.”

Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) said the business community in Maryland “took a deep breath” when Perez was named to head the state labor department, wondering if he was a “lefty Democrat from a very blue county, Montgomery, from Takoma Park … which is known as a community of grass-roots activists.”

Perez said he allayed employers' concerns by visiting them and listening to their concerns, and a coalition of Maryland businesses have endorsed his nomination, Mikulski said.

By Stephen Lee  

The House Republican letter is available at