Lots of Work for New Labor Secretary

Perez Faces Daunting Obstacles

Labor Secretary Tom Perez pledged this week to aggressively defend workers rights in a speech to the AFL-CIO but it may be a bit early to break out the balloons and confetti.

For one thing, Perez, who was appointed by President Barack Obama in July, has little power to overcome some of the daunting obstacles facing both the labor movement and American workers generally.

Research earlier this year documented what many casual observers already knew – the U.S. Supreme Court is, in fact,  the most anti-employee rights court in modern U.S. history.

In the past two years, the Court has issued decisions that make it far more difficult for plaintiffs to prevail in employment discrimination lawsuits, retaliation lawsuits and class action lawsuits. See One-Two Punch by Anti-Worker Court and Wal-Mart Doges Bullet.

Congress has done little or nothing to repair these devastating blows to worker rights.

Congress has not even addressed the Court’s absurd 2009 decision in Gross v. FBL Financial Services  to treat plaintiffs in age discrimination lawsuits less favorably than plaintiffs in race or sex discrimination lawsuits.

Finally, Congress’ so-called budget compromise – the sequester  – threatens to devastate the U.S. Department of Labor, which faces a potential budget cut of up to 26 percent in 2014.

Still …  Let the wind be at his back as Perez defends collective-bargaining rights, aggressively enforces wage laws and takes steps to improve workplace safety.

He also plans to crack down on employers who unlawfully misclassify workers as contractors instead of as employees and extend wage protections—such as overtime pay—to groups like home health-care workers who now have limited protections. Mr. Perez also said the DOL also will focus on job-training skills, calling he agency the “Department of Opportunity.”

And there’s no time like the present!

Union membership is down from a high of 20 percent in 1983 to 11.3 percent in 2012 (of which only 6.6 percent are private sector workers).

 

Sen. Warren Speaks to Labor

They Got Rich; We Paid for the Roads

Labor Day 2013 could be a depressing given the sad state of labor in the United States.

So here are some inspiring  quotes from U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass), mostly courtesy of the AFL-CIO, which has invited Warren to be a keynote speaker at its national convention in Los Angeles next month. Warren has proven to be a clear voice for lower and middle class workers since her election to the U.S. Senate.

  •  “There is nobody in this country who got rich on their own. Nobody. You built a factory out there—good for you. But  … You moved your goods to market on roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory….You built a factory and it turned into something terrific or a great idea—God bless! Keep a hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.”—September 2011. 

“People feel like the system is rigged against them, and here is the painful part, they’re right. The system is rigged.”—September 2012.

  • “Hardworking men and women who are busting their tails in full-time jobs shouldn’t be left in poverty.”—August 2013..
  • “Look around. Oil companies guzzle down the billions in profits. Billionaires pay a lower tax rate than their secretaries, and Wall Street CEOs, the same ones that direct our economy and destroyed millions of jobs still strut around Congress, no shame, demanding favors, and acting like we should thank them. Does anyone here have a problem with that?”—September, 2012.
  •  “It is critical that the American people, and not just their financial institutions, be represented at the negotiating table.”—Summer 2009.
  •  “Americans are fighters. We’re tough, resourceful and creative, and if we have the chance to fight on a level playing field, where everyone pays a fair share and everyone has a real shot, then no one—no one can stop us.”—September 2012.
  • “Washington is wired to work well for those on Wall Street who can hire lobbyists and lawyers and it doesn’t work very well for the rest of us.”—October 2011.
  •  “If you’re caught with an ounce of cocaine, the chances are good you’re going to jail….Evidently, if you launder nearly a billion dollars for drug cartels and violate our international sanctions, your company pays a fine and you go home and sleep in your own bed at night.”—March 2013. 
  • “Corporations are not people. People have hearts, they have kids, they get jobs, they get sick, they cry, they dance. They live, they love and they die. And that matters. That matters because we don’t run this country for corporations, we run it for people.”—September 2012.
  •  “Nobody’s safe. Health insurance? That didn’t protect 1 million Americans who were financially ruined by illness or medical bills last year.”—February 2005.

In addition to Warren,  the AFL-CIO convention has invited as a guest speaker the recently appointed Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez.

Here are a couple of other Warren quotes worth remembering:

  • “Instead of helping our students, the government is making a profit on student loans. That is wrong. It is morally wrong. That is obscene.”
  • “I introduced the Bank on Students Loan Fairness Act to give students the same low-interest rates that the big banks get. If those 0.75% rate is good enough for the big banks, it’s good enough for our kids who are trying to get an education. And as long as the government continues to make hundreds of billions in profits off our students, I’ll keep fighting.”