President Barack Obama named Thomas Perez, an assistant U.S. attorney general, as his choice for labor secretary in his second term. Perez would replace Hilda Solis, ensuring that the Labor Department is led again by a Hispanic, helping the president maintain diversity in his cabinet. Solis resigned in January.
(There was no immediate indication based on his career history that he would reverse course on any of the DOL’s ongoing initiatives to promote the interests of retirement plan participants and keep the pressure on plan sponsors and advisers to act consistently with that priority.)
Labor groups applauded Obama’s choice of Perez to run the 17,000-employee department. Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO labor federation, said the lawyer has been a champion for working people who sought to eliminate discrimination in housing, provide access to education and health care, and crack down on employers who try to avoid paying fair wages.
Perez is a “strong advocate for working Americans, particularly low-wage, and immigrant workers,” Liz Cattaneo, spokeswoman for Jobs with Justice-American Rights at Work, a Washington-based group that advocates for worker’s rights, said by e-mail. “We urge Congress to pursue a swift confirmation process so the agency can move forward with its agenda.”
When announcing his pick yesterday, President Obama said Perez “knows what it’s like to climb the ladder of opportunity.” Perez is the son of immigrants from the Dominican Republic. Perez will work to promote economic growth and will “make sure that growth is broad-based,” the president said.
If confirmed by the Senate, Perez would probably play a prominent part in pushing Obama’s agenda on items including an immigration overhaul and raising the nation’s minimum wage to $9 an hour from $7.25. Perez might be pressed on both fronts, such as by a proposal to issue visas for guest workers, by Senate Republicans, said Gary Chaison, a labor-relations professor at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts.
Civil Rights Background
Perez, 51, has led the Justice Department’s civil rights unit since 2009. He has pursued discriminatory job postings at a Florida health-care company, charges of sex discrimination in hiring by the city of Corpus Christie, Texas, and lawsuits against Georgia for failing to ensure overseas voting rights.
In May, Perez accused Arizona’s Maricopa County and Sheriff Joseph Arpaio of discriminating against Latinos in a lawsuit. Arpaio, who has reinstituted jailhouse chain gangs, said the Obama administration targeted him in an election-year maneuver.
Senator David Vitter, a Louisiana Republican, said he will block the nomination until the Justice Department answers a 2011 letter about what he said was selective enforcement by the agency of the voter registration act in Louisiana. “Thomas Perez’s record should be met with great suspicion by my colleagues,” Vitter said in a statement.
Perez graduated from Harvard University’s law school and holds degrees in international relations and political science from Brown University. Before taking his Justice Department post, Perez was secretary of the Maryland Labor, Licensing and Regulation Department, which oversees workplace safety laws, wage-and-hour regulations and the state’s consumer-protection statutes.
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