Annapolis, Md. (PAI) — A top union leader who worked closely with Thomas Perez, President Barack Obama’s nominee to be the nation’s next Secretary of Labor, says Perez can bring labor and progressive firms together, as Perez did in Maryland.
Creating such alliances is one reason Perez “was a great secretary” of Labor, Licensing and Regulation in Maryland, adds Fred D. Mason, Jr., president of the Maryland-D.C. AFL-CIO, the umbrella organization for the state’s unions.
“He understands workers’ rights are human rights, and he’s a human rights advocate,” Mason said.
On March 18, Obama named Perez, now assistant attorney general for civil rights, to succeed Hilda Solis in the U.S. Labor Department’s top job. Solis left on Jan. 5. Perez held the state labor post from 2006-2009, before the Justice Department post. He was in Justice’s Civil Rights Division before, and was a Montgomery County, Md. councilman – its first Hispanic-named council member – from 2002 to 2006.
Mason said Perez was not only “very capable, but he understands federal, state and local government” and forged “good relationships” with unions. Perez served under pro-worker Gov. Martin O’Malley, a potential 2016 Democratic presidential candidate.
Perez also forged relationships with business, Mason said. He understands “you need to compromise” to get pro-worker measures through legislatures.
One top initiative Perez and Mason worked on together was to convince the Maryland legislature to crack down on employers who misclassify workers as “independent contractors,” depriving them of rights and benefits and the state of tax revenue.
Perez “understands the American economy and the role businesses have in it,” Mason explains. “But he insists workers have value and it should be respected.”
National union leaders also praised Obama’s selection of Perez for the top Labor Department job, including Mary Kay Henry, president of the 2.1 million-member Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
Said Henry: “During his time as Labor Secretary in Maryland, Mr. Perez had a strong record of enforcing labor laws, especially wage and hour and other violations that stood in the way of workers earning a fair wage. Enforcing these labor laws help to close the income gap between the wealthy and everyone else.
“His driven leadership of the Civil Rights Division at the Justice Department also makes him a highly qualified nominee. Mr. Perez has initiated many important challenges to state and local laws that sought to infringe on the civil rights of minority communities and of all Americans.
Sarita Gupta, executive director of Jobs With Justice, cited Perez’ civil rights work in lauding the nomination. Her organization advocates for and represents many low-income and minority-group member workers.
Perez is “a strong advocate for working Americans, particularly low-wage, and immigrant workers,” she said. “This choice sends a clear message the administration is looking out for our nation's most vulnerable workers.”