Labor Secretary Tom Perez, a potential running mate for Hillary Clinton, is coming under fire from critics and union watchdogs for joining a union-backed campaign to double the minimum wage on the taxpayer’s dime.
Perez travelled across the country from Detroit to Milwaukee to lend his support to labor giant Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and its Fight for $15 campaign, according to a release from conservative research firm America Rising Squared. Brian Rogers, the group’s executive director, said that the frequent travel raised questions about Perez’s political ambitions and work as a regulator.
"It’s disturbing that Perez would use taxpayer dollars to fly all over the country to advance the liberal special interest agenda of the SEIU and other big labor unions through their multi-million-dollar ‘Fight for $15’ campaign," Rogers said in a release.
Perez met with local union organizers from groups like the AFL-CIO, SEIU, and Fight for $15 on at least three occasions this year in Detroit, Milwaukee, and Washington, D.C. The department did not return requests for comment about whether taxpayer dollars were used for these trips.
None of the speeches Perez gave during these meetings appear on the agency’s archive of official government remarks from the secretary. He has not been shy in his advocacy to increase the $7.25 federal minimum wage to $15 an hour—an effort sparked by SEIU officials that goes beyond the $10.10 wage supported by President Obama and the $12 rate advocated by Hillary Clinton.
"Fifty years ago, a minimum wage salary could support a family; today it can barely keep the lights on. That's why we need to raise the minimum wage and index it to inflation going forward," Perez said at an AFL-CIO conference in January 2015. "Popular, grass-roots support for a higher minimum wage is surging nationwide, leading to bold action at the state and local level."
Michael Saltsman, a labor expert at the free market Employment Policies Institute, said that Perez’s advocacy on behalf of union pet causes has been a defining feature of his leadership since Obama appointed him in 2013.
"His tenure at the Labor Department has been marked by his support for a dramatically higher minimum wage—specifically, the 'Fight for $15' waged by his union allies at the SEIU," he said.
Perez is a rising star in Democratic circles. His name has been floated by influential liberal leaders, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.), as a vice presidential pick that could bridge the gap between Hillary Clinton and supporters of socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.). The labor secretary endorsed Clinton in December and has since visited Iowa and Nevada five times to phone bank, campaign, and stump for the frontrunner.
"Perez should also come clean about whether he’s being paid by the American taxpayers while auditioning to be Hillary Clinton’s running mate," Rogers said in the release.
Perez has been a figure of controversy in the past.
A former colleague at the Department of Justice said that Perez wrongfully killed an investigation into voter intimidation by the New Black Panther Party. He has also insisted that civil rights laws should not protect white people. Like Clinton, he has been the target of federal investigations for sending thousands of government emails on a private account to dodge accountability laws.
Saltsman told the Washington Free Beacon that a Clinton-Perez ticket could be an uneasy partnership. Clinton has attacked Bernie Sanders for supporting the $15 wage rate because she fears that it would kill jobs. Perez has denied the relationship between steep wage hikes and lost employment opportunities on multiple occasions, telling the AFL-CIO that it would "grow the economy."
"Perez has reportedly visited more than 40 states in his two years on the job, and perhaps he'll rack up more frequent flyers miles on the campaign trail with Hillary and the SEIU," Saltsman said. "His time would be better spent understanding the consequences of the policies he's championed, such as raising the minimum wage."