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New York Labor Leader Nominated for Washington Job

March 24, 2009
Related Topics: Labor Relations, Workforce Planning, Latest News
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President Barack Obama has nominated New York state Labor Commissioner M. Patricia Smith to be the solicitor in the U.S. Department of Labor, tapping the woman who overhauled the New York State Labor Department the past two years for one of the top posts under new Labor Secretary Hilda Solis.

In her two years at the helm of the Labor Department, Smith zeroed in on enforcement of labor standards, working closely with union and community groups to identify wage and hour violations.

The department focused on strategic enforcement, targeting industries where violations were believed to be commonplace—including garment factories, car washes, poultry plants and restaurants—instead of investigating single complaints.

Last year, the department collected and disbursed a record $24.6 million to more than 17,000 workers. And this month, it reached an agreement with the owner of eight restaurants to fork over $2.3 million in back wages to employees who were denied overtime and minimum wage, the department’s largest ever settlement.

“She has returned the Labor Department to its core mission of enforcing the labor law by protecting all workers and ensuring that all employers in New York compete on a level playing field,” Gov. David Paterson said in a statement.

Smith’s labor roots date to her childhood, which was spent in part in a small town in coal mining country in western Pennsylvania.

“We were surrounded by working people,” she told Crain’s New York Business, a sister publication of Workforce Management. last year. “The United Mineworkers was a very active union, and you would hear about the union, about the strikes.”

After graduating from New York University School of Law, she worked for various legal services organizations. Before her appointment at the state Labor Department, she worked for 20 years in the labor bureau at the New York state Attorney General’s Office, including an eight-year stint as the bureau chief.

Her appointment in Washington requires Senate approval. A spokeswoman for the governor said there is no timeline to name a replacement but that a search would begin soon.

Filed by Daniel Massey of Crain’s New York Business, a sister publication of Workforce Management. To comment, e-mail editors@workforce.com.

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