Earlier this month, I noted that the Labor Department is trying to ramp up its effort to combat wage theft without a Wage and House Administrator, whose nomination is stalled in the Senate. Last week, Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY), ranking Republican on the Senate HELP Committee, asked President Obama to to withdraw his nomination for Patricia Smith to be Department of Labor Solicitor, citing “inconsistent testimony” regarding a program that she launched in New York to monitor wage theft. According to the New York Times, there are currently five Labor Deptartment nominees awaiting Senate confirmation.
Today, the Wonk Room sat down with AFL-CIO Secretary Treasurer Richard Trumka — who is running unopposed for the AFL-CIO presidency. Trumka said that, in his opinion, those holding up Labor Department nominees are invested in the business-centric stance that came to characterize the Labor Department under the Bush administration:
They’re holding up scores of nominees because they don’t want those positions filled. In some cases, it’s because there are Republican holdovers in them, in some cases they just want the department to be slow and they think if they can hamper the President by keeping his people out and not having a full team on the field, that they come out ahead. [...]
They don’t want anybody in the Labor Department that’s actually going to look out for the interests of workers. They think that it ought to be Commerce Two. So you have the Commerce Department and under [former Labor Secretary] Elaine Chao it was Commerce Two, where they took care of business in both places. And we suffered. Health and safety of workers suffered, the lives of workers were taken needlessly.
As David Madland and Karla Walter wrote, “from air pollution to food safety to children’s toys, one of the hallmarks of President George W. Bush’s administration [was] its failure to enforce laws designed to protect ordinary Americans. This failure is perhaps nowhere more evident than at the Department of Labor, where the Obama administration will have an opportunity and an obligation to correct the Bush administration’s inadequate enforcement of important workplace protections.” But it’s going to be very difficult to fulfill that obligation if the administration can’t get its people in place to do the job.