(Bloomberg) — President Barack Obama named Thomas Perez, an assistant U.S. attorney general, as his choice for labor secretary in his second term.
Perez would replace Hilda Solis, ensuring that the Labor Department is led again by a Hispanic, helping the president maintain diversity in his cabinet. Solis resigned in January.
“Like so many Americans, Tom knows what it’s like to climb the ladder of opportunity,” Obama said Monday in announcing his plan to nominate Perez, the son of immigrants from the Dominican Republic. Perez will work to promote economic growth and will “make sure that growth is broad-based,” the president said.
If confirmed by the Senate, Perez would probably play a prominent part in pushing Obama’s agenda on items including an immigration overhaul and raising the nation’s minimum wage to $9 an hour from $7.25. Perez might be pressed on both fronts, such as by a proposal to issue visas for guest workers, by Senate Republicans, said Gary Chaison, a labor-relations professor at Clark University in Worcester, Mass.
“I don’t think that he’s really committed himself one way or another toward a guest-worker program,” Chaison says. “These are going to be the hearings from hell.”
Perez, 51, has led the Justice Department’s civil rights unit since 2009. He has pursued discriminatory job postings at a Florida health care company, charges of sex discrimination in hiring by the city of Corpus Christie, Texas, and lawsuits against Georgia for failing to ensure overseas voting rights.
Labor groups applauded Obama’s choice of Perez to run the 17,000-employee department. Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO labor federation, said the lawyer has been a champion for working people who sought to eliminate discrimination in housing, provide access to education and health care, and crack down on employers who try to avoid paying fair wages.
Perez is a “strong advocate for working Americans, particularly low-wage, and immigrant workers,” said Liz Cattaneo spokeswoman for Jobs with Justice-American Rights at Work, a Washington-based group that advocates for worker’s rights. “We urge Congress to pursue a swift confirmation process so the agency can move forward with its agenda.”
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