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Thomas Perez Appointed Secretary of Labor

Thomas Perez was appointed the secretary of Labor July 18. His appointment was met with caution by employer groups but welcomed by pro-union groups.

July 24, 2013
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Thomas Perez

Thomas Perez is the new U.S. secretary of labor.

Photo Credit: Lonnie Tague for the U.S. Justice Department

Thomas Perez is the new secretary of labor.                                                                                               Photo Credit: U.S. Justice Department

Thomas Perez was approved by the Senate to become the next Secretary of Labor July 18. Perez succeeds former Labor Secretary Hilda Solis.

Before his nomination for the position by President Barack Obama in March, Perez was the assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. During the appointment process, he was criticized by Republican senators for choosing not to intervene in a whistleblower case against the city of St. Paul, Minnesota.

Republican objection proved fruitless, though, as Perez’s appointment to Labor secretary was confirmed by a vote of 54-46, which fell along party lines.

With a reputation of being a progressive, pro-union advocate, labor groups are pleased with Perez’s appointment.

“We are delighted that Tom Perez has finally been confirmed and can now take on the important job of leading the Department of Labor,” said Mary Kay Henry, president of Service Employees International Union, in a written statement. “His public service at the county, state and federal levels provide him with the vital experience that will enable him to be an excellent secretary of Labor.”

Democratic senators are also pleased with the Perez’s approval.

“Without question, Tom Perez has the knowledge and experience needed to guide the U.S. Department of Labor. Through his professional experiences—and especially his work as secretary of the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation—he has developed strong policy expertise about the many important issues for American workers and businesses that come before DOL each day,” said Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, in a press release regarding Perez’s confirmation.

However, conservative groups are not as pleased with Perez’s appointment as their liberal counterparts.

Michael Lotito, co-chair of workplace policy institute at Littler Mendelson in San Francisco, anticipates the Labor Department will continue to be aggressive in enforcing federal regulations just as it was under Solis’ leadership. Such policies could perpetuate an economic climate in which employers will have a difficult time hiring workers, according to Lotito.

Scott Witlin, partner of the Labor and Employment Practice at Barnes & Thornburg in Los Angeles, expressed a similar opinion. “The economy is improving, but not at a pace that we all want,” said Witlin. “You’ve got to look at what you can do to help create jobs. Instead they’re looking at employers as being entities that will take advantage of workers that need to be reined in, rather than entities that create jobs and sign paychecks. That’s the balance that needs to be struck. Nobody’s saying we need no regulations. You’ve got to have sensible regulations that have real tangible benefits.”

Instead of focusing on a regulatory agenda, Lotito believes the Labor Department should take its cues from Frances Perkins, the first Secretary of Labor, and concentrate on education and compliance. “That’s the kind of thing Frances Perkins talked about during the [Great] Depression. We really need another Frances Perkins right now, and I’m not sure we’re getting it in Thomas Perez.”

Max Mihelich is a Workforce associate editor. Comment below or email Follow Mihelich on Twitter at @workforcemax.

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