Today, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Labor Department is “signaling it will soon begin putting in practice the more assertive regulation of business [Labor Secretary Hilda Solis] promised early in her tenure.” As part of that effort, “there will be 150 investigators added in the Wage and Hour division to enforce wage rules and child-labor laws.”
This increase is a smart move. As USA Today reported this week, “complaints of wage theft have risen as the economy tumbled.” In Austin, the Workers Defense Project received 63 complaints in June, compared with 25 it had in June last year, while Chicago’s Working Hands Legal Clinic received 252 complaints in the first half of this year, compared with 161 in the same period last year.
However, the administration’s nominee to run the Wage and Hour Division is still stuck in the Senate. Lorelei Boylan, the Director of Strategic Enforcement at the New York State Department of Labor, was announced as the nominee on April 14 and formally nominated on May 11, but has not even received a confirmation hearing before the Senate HELP Committee. By contrast, President Bush’s nominee for this position was confirmed in less than three months. As Bruce Goldstein put it at Harvesting Justice:
The failure to allow the President to place leaders of his choice in these positions severaly harms the Department’s capacity to enforce farmworkers’ rights and improve the operation of the agency. The Senate’s parliamentary rules (and lack of them) allow individuals substantial power. The failure of the Senate majority to force these long-delayed confirmations over the objection of whoever is stalling is harming the most vulnerable working people in this country.
The Wage and Hour Division was allowed to languish under former Secretary Elaine Chao, and is undeniably a mess, as a Government Accountability Office report from March revealed. To compile its report, the GAO called in some fictitious labor violations to the agency, to see how it responded. The results were not encouraging:
WHD successfully investigated 1 of our 10 fictitious cases, correctly identifying and investigating a business that had multiple complaints filed against it by our fictitious complainants. Five of our 10 complaints were not recorded in WHD’s database and 2 of 10 were recorded as successfully paid when in fact the fictitious complainants reported to WHD they had not been paid.
Boylan’s task force in New York, meanwhile, “flourished into a groundbreaking investigative unit with a high rate of success in resolving wage and hour investigations.” When it comes back from recess, the Senate needs to confirm her, so that the Labor Department has a competent administrator leading its fight against wage theft.