Thomas Perez won Senate confirmation July 18, 2013, to lead the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), where he has promised to focus on enforcing wage and hour laws and raising the federal minimum wage.
The Senate voted 54-46 along party lines, putting him on track to be sworn in as the next secretary of labor, where he will oversee the country’s labor laws, employment benefits and jobs data collection.
Perez was nominated to lead the DOL in March 2013, and his nomination was approved by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions two months later.
When asked during his nomination hearing before the Senate what his top priority would be as labor secretary, Perez responded “jobs, jobs, jobs.” Referencing the broad range of DOL responsibilities, he testified that other priorities would be reauthorizing the Workforce Investment Act with bipartisan support, pension security, enforcement of wage and hour laws, job safety and equal opportunity in the workplace.
Perez previously served as the secretary of Maryland’s Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, which enforces the state’s workplace safety laws, wage and hour laws, and consumer rights laws. President Barack Obama said that in Maryland Perez had “helped implement the country’s first statewide living-wage law, because he understood that a minimum wage should be a wage that you can live on.”
Democrats praised Perez’s confirmation, which had been held up since May.
Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said “without question, Tom Perez has the knowledge and experience needed to guide [DOL]. 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.”
Perez will replace Hilda Solis, who resigned in January 2013.
Republicans opposed the nomination of Perez chiefly for what they viewed as improper conduct while Perez served as assistant attorney general for civil rights, including alleged selective law enforcement, harassment of employees based on political views and aggressiveness in challenging voting rights laws.
Specifically, they claimed that Perez played a role in a quid pro quo arrangement between the Justice Department and the city of St. Paul, Minn., in which the department agreed to drop two lawsuits in exchange for the city’s withdrawing a case before the U.S. Supreme Court that challenged the use of statistics as evidence of race discrimination. Republicans allege that Perez and others at the Justice Department thought the case might undermine the disparate-impact theory in civil rights enforcement.
Perez denied that he was personally involved in the decision not to sue St. Paul but acknowledged that he supported the city’s decision to withdraw its Supreme Court challenge, saying it was in the best interest of the nation.
CHROs Speak Out
The HR Policy Association, an organization representing chief human resource officers of major corporations, congratulated Perez, but took the opportunity to remind the incoming secretary of its concern over the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs’ proposed rule revising nondiscrimination and affirmative action regulations for workers with disabilities.
The rule initially was proposed in 2011 and would require federal contractors to set hiring goals for workers with disabilities. Employer groups have argued that the regulation would place an undue burden on businesses.
“Association members are committed to increasing the employment of Americans with disabilities regardless of what is required by the federal government[,] and most have programs going well beyond the requirements … that are not motivated merely by compliance with governmental mandates. However, the association believes that the approach set forth in the [proposed rule] imposes unachievable standards and burdensome requirements on federal contractors while undermining its goals,” the group wrote to Perez the day he was confirmed.
Daniel V. Yager, president and general counsel of the association, wrote, “We have also repeatedly expressed our interest in working with the department to achieve a more reasonable, workable approach that would achieve the same goals of increased employment and effective integration of persons with disabilities into the nation’s workforce. Before the department moves forward in this area under your leadership, we are writing to repeat this offer to you.”
Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.
Follow him @SHRMRoy
Senate Committee Approves Labor Nominee Perez, HR News, May 2013
Obama Labor Pick Questioned over Past Record, HR News, April 2013
Mixed Reaction to Perez Could Signal Contentious Confirmation, HR News, March 2013