On April 20th, President Obama nominated Patricia Smith to the post of Department of Labor Solicitor, the number three spot within DoL and the department’s top law enforcement post. But, nearly seven months later, Smith’s nomination still has not come to the Senate floor for a vote, in part because, in early October, Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY) placed a hold on it.
Already, one of Obama’s DoL nominees, Lorelei Boylan, withdrew her nomination after a lengthy wait for a confirmation vote. But it’s imperative that Smith’s nomination be brought to the floor and that she get confirmed.
As Solicitor, Smith would be responsible for enforcing all of the nation’s workplace laws, and overseeing the office representing the agency in all enforcement actions. And such actions are clearly necessary, as 16 people die at work every day from employer negligence in America, while 68 percent of low-wage workers report that they have been the victim of wage violations. All told, the typical low-wage worker victimized by wage theft sees an overall 15 percent reduction in pay annually.
Under the Bush administration’s corporate-friendly Labor Department, the solicitor’s office sat on its hands and failed to enforce even the most flagrant labor violations. And Enzi seems to be trying to maintain the status quo. As Thomas Frank wrote, Enzi is coming after Smith “because she is an effective and innovative labor bureaucrat.” Is Enzi motivated by “the dread possibility of a Labor Department that works?” Frank asked. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka agreed, saying that those in Congress who are holding up the nominees are doing so simply “because they don’t want those positions filled.”
The New York Times has called Smith “one of the nation’s foremost labor commissioners because of her vigorous efforts to crack down on minimum wage and overtime violations at businesses including restaurants, supermarkets, car washes and racetracks.” During her time with the New York State Labor Department, where she is labor commissioner, Smith helped win more than $20 million in back pay for thousands of low-wage workers, including a record $2.3 million settlement with the owner of Ollie’s Noodle Shop and Grill chain in Manhattan.
As David Madland and Karla Walter pointed out, “too often penalties [for labor law violations] are easily reduced or levied for low amounts, and the solicitor’s office has minimized civil and criminal liability for the worst violators.” Smith can change that, if only her nomination could come to a vote.