“American workers have an advocate in the Labor Department who will protect and defend workers’ rights — from collective bargaining to workplace safety to retirement security,” said Lee Saunders, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
The Senate confirmed Perez last month on a party-line 54-46 vote, part of a deal in which Republicans agreed to end stalling tactics over several of President Barack Obama’s nominees.
The Labor Department already has dramatically increased enforcement of safety, wage and hour laws during Obama’s administration. Former Labor Secretary Hilda Solis bluntly declared there was “a new sheriff in town” when she took over the department in 2009.
But Perez is expected to take things further based on his track record at the Justice Department. He played a leading role in challenging voter ID laws in Texas and South Carolina and was particularly aggressive in bringing housing discrimination cases. As labor secretary in Maryland, Perez was known for actively going after companies that misclassified workers as independent contractors to avoid paying minimum wage and overtime.
“He’ll probably be more hands-on than Solis was,” said Randel Johnson, vice president for labor issues at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
One rule triggering perhaps the strongest opposition in the business community would require employers to disclose the attorneys and consultants they hire to advise them during union organizing drives, even if the consultants have no direct contact with workers.
If the rule is adopted, unions would know whether a company has hired what they refer to as “union-busting” firms and how much those firms are being paid to offer advice. Employers believe union leaders could use such information to embarrass company managers as they try to persuade workers to back the unions.
“We believe it would severely limit the ability of an employer to get legal advice during a union organizing campaign,” Johnson said.
Unions and other supporters of the rule argue that it would simply close a major loophole that allows employers and management consultants to avoid reporting on their efforts to discourage workers from unionizing.
“We think this is a rule to enhance transparency, and that’s a good thing,” said Lynn Rhinehart, general counsel for the AFL-CIO.