President Obama will reportedly choose Thomas Perez, an assistant attorney general who oversees the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, to replace outgoing Labor Secretary Hilda Solis. Perez, a popular pick among labor and Latino groups, is expected to be nominated this week, according to various news reports. Should he be confirmed by the Senate, Perez will take over Labor at a time when Obama and Democrats are pushing for immigration reform and a minimum wage increase.
Before his current role began, Perez served in Bill Clinton’s Justice Dept., as a city council member in Montgomery County, Maryland, and as the head of Maryland’s state labor department. And while Perez has spent the last four years leading the administration’s challenges to new voter restrictions, his past also includes experience fighting to protect and expand workers’ rights:
Fought worker exploitation and human trafficking: Perez served on the Worker Exploitation Task Force, which sought to protect vulnerable workers, while working in the Justice Dept. under Attorney General Janet Reno. The task force aimed to fight “modern day slavery” that resulted from human trafficking, discrimination in labor markets, and other exploitative practices, according to Senate testimony from former officials. The task force secured multiple convictions involving the trafficking and exploitation of women and children workers, and helped lead to calls around the country for stronger anti-trafficking laws both at the federal and state level.
Pushed for labor protections for domestic workers: Millions of domestic workers in the United States make low wages because they aren’t protected by labor law, a problem Perez sought to address while serving on Montgomery County’s City Council, where he pushed for contractual labor law protections and a minimum wage for such workers. After three years of debate, and after Perez had left the council, those protections became law in 2008 and gave domestic workers contractual labor rights they still lack in most of the United States.
Protected immigrant workers from losing pay: Perez would take over the Dept. of Labor in the middle of Obama’s push for immigration reform, and he has experience dealing with immigration and labor issues. While serving in the Justice Dept., Perez investigated claims that employers were using Alabama’s new immigration law to avoid paying immigrant workers. “We continue to be concerned that certain employers may be using HB56 as an excuse not to pay workers,” he said, adding that he would “throw the book” at employers who weren’t paying workers. “We’re here. We will prosecute you. That is impermissible, period.”