Going Into Labor

Perez expected to be grilled by Republican senators

Tom Perez / AP
April 18, 2013

A Senate committee will begin debate on President Barack Obama’s controversial nominee to head the Department of Labor Thursday morning.

Tom Perez will appear before the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee to answer questions about labor policy. He is also expected to be asked about the controversy that has plagued his tenure as the head of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division.

Lawmakers are calling on Sen. Lamar Alexander (R., Tenn.), ranking Republican on the committee, and others in the minority to shed some light on Perez’s record during the hearing.

"Mr. Perez will have a lot of questions to answer this week as the Senate considers his nomination," Grassley said on Sunday. "Not only was he the ringleader of the quid pro quo deal that ensured the taxpayer would not be able to recover hundreds of millions of dollars, but he has been misleading and less than forthcoming with our committees and the U.S. Civil Rights Commission."

The House Oversight Committee released a report Sunday that revealed Perez allegedly tossed out a $200 million fraud lawsuit against the city of St. Paul, Minn., in exchange for the city dropping a separate lawsuit that was heading to the Supreme Court.

Oversight chairman Darryl Issa (R., Calif.) said Perez was concerned the high court would use the city’s suit to throw out the constitutionally dubious legal doctrine of disparate impact, which makes it easier for minorities to sue for discrimination.

"’Disparate impact’ is found where an employer's neutral practice has more of a negative effect on members of a certain group protected by the federal anti-discrimination laws," said Robin Shea, a labor attorney with Constangy, Brooks, and Smith. "For example, a pre-employment test that is administered to all applicants but has a statistically significant difference in failure rates based on the race of the applicant could be said to have a ‘disparate impact’ on members of that racial group."

The Supreme Court dealt disparate impact a blow in 2009 when it ruled in favor of several white and Hispanic firefighters who were denied promotions despite passing officers exams. The city of New Haven threw out the test results because too few black firefighters received passing grades.

Perez has also been accused of suggesting civil rights laws do not apply to white people.

The department declined to prosecute two members of the New Black Panther Party who brandished weapons at a Philadelphia polling place during the 2008 election.

Perez said voting rights laws did "not cover white citizens," according to an inspector general report released in March.

J. Christian Adams, who resigned his post at the Civil Rights Division in protest of the Black Panther case, called Perez the "most extreme cabinet appointee in 70 years."

"People like Perez are very skillful at creatively ignoring the law to suit their own ends," Adams told the Washington Free Beacon in March.

Perez’s record on the case has inspired opposition from other Republican senators. Sen. David Vitter (R., La.) pledged to block the nomination when it was announced.

"Thomas Perez’s record should be met with great suspicion by my colleagues for his spotty work related to the New Black Panther case, but Louisianians most certainly should have cause for concern about this nomination," Vitter said.

Prior to joining the Department of Justice, Perez headed CASA de Maryland, an immigration group that helps legal and illegal immigrants find jobs, before becoming the Maryland secretary of labor.

He served as a vital union ally in the latter post, according to multiple union leaders who spoke with the Washington Free Beacon.

"He performed great as secretary of labor for the state of Maryland," said Maryland-D.C. AFL-CIO president Fred Mason. "The sense of fairness that exists in most people is what Perez epitomizes … he has consistently demonstrated that."

Perez helped pass bills at the state and local level that give unions an advantage in contract bidding by driving up costs for competitors, which in turn drives up the cost for taxpayers. Obama has made wage issues a centerpiece of his second term, stepping up regulations on wages for government contractors and pushing for a 24 percent minimum wage hike.

Some of the nation’s leading labor attorneys have expressed trepidation about Perez’s nomination, citing his expected support for proposed regulations, which could make it harder for employers to seek outside help to persuade workers to maintain a union-free workplace.

"Mr. Perez can be expected to support organized labor on new labor persuader regulations … expected any day now and keep the DOL's Wage and Hour Division pushing that office forward," one attorney told the Free Beacon on condition of anonymity. "I would not see any nominee from President Obama having a different view."

Perez’s nomination is expected to reach the Senate floor next week should he make it through committee.