President Obama announced on March 18 that he has picked Tom Perez, the head of the Justice Dept.'s civil rights division, to be the next Labor secretary.
If confirmed, Perez would be instrumental in setting policy for such key construction issues as safety and health, prevailing-wage enforcement, workforce development and training and oversight of guest-worker programs.
Under Hilda Solis, who stepped down as Labor secretary on Jan. 22, the department was viewed as being tough on employers. For example, during Solis' tenure, the department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration levied the largest fines in the agency's history.
Before becoming the assistant attorney general in charge of the civil rights division, Perez was Maryland's labor secretary. In that job he was known for taking a hard line against employers and seeking to protect the rights of workers.
In announcing his selection of Perez at the White House, Obama said that Perez has “tackled plenty of tough issues,” but also has built a reputation as a “consensus-builder.” Obama said, “He’s worked with CEOs, he’s worked with labor leaders. He’s worked at federal, state and local government levels.”
Perez said, “Over my career, I’ve learned that true progress is possible if you keep an open mind, listen to all sides, and focus on results. I look forward to taking these lessons with me, if confirmed, to my new role as secretary of the Dept. of Labor.”
Perez may not have a smooth path to confirmation. Just hours after Obama announced his choice, Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) said he would block the nomination. Vitter wants the Justice Dept. to respond to his request to be "consistent" in enforcing the National Voter Registration Act.
Construction labor officials praised Perez’s selection. Roger Lash, business manager of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers' Local 24, in Baltimore—who served under Perez as director of Maryland's apprentice and training program—calls him "a no-nonsense person who really cares about working people. He’s a great choice.”