Tom Perez, President Obama’s nominee to head the U.S. Department of Labor, has received a warm welcome from labor organizations representing low-wage immigrant workers.
“We’re pleased that President Obama has nominated Tom Perez—a strong advocate for working Americans, particularly low-wage, and immigrant workers—to lead the Department of Labor,” said Sarita Gupta, executive director of Jobs with Justice, in a statement. “This choice sends a clear message that the administration is looking out for our nation’s most vulnerable workers.”
“The appointment of Thomas Perez as head of the Department of Labor brings immigrants one step closer to equal rights at the workplace,” said Pablo Alvarado, executive director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON). “It is a signal of the need for full labor protections within immigration reform.”
Both Jobs with Justice and NDLON are what are known as “alt-labor” groups: Non-union workers’ organizations that advocate for the interests of employees who do not have collective bargaining rights. Alt-labor groups often represent low-wage workers from marginalized communities, such as undocumented immigrants.
Perez, as the current head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the former president of the immigrant justice group CASA de Maryland, is likely to emphasize enforcement of labor rights for immigrants and other traditionally marginalized low-wage workers. As a first-generation Dominican-American, he will also add some diversity to the president’s cabinet.
Senate Republicans are expected to strongly oppose Perez’s nomination, having previously held up his appointment to the Justice Department for over seven months.
In his time as assistant attorney general in charge of the DoJ’s Civil Rights Division, Perez became known for his aggressive, high-profile investigations into allegations of discrimination. For example, he investigated Pennsylvania’s controversial voter ID law to determine whether it was in violation of the Voting Rights Act, and used Section five of the Voting Rights Act to block a similar law from being enacted in Texas.
He also investigated the Trayvon Martin killing to determine whether it was a hate crime, and put a new emphasis on advocating for the rights of LGBT youth and the disabled. All of this has garnered him support among grassroots progressive groups.
“Tom Perez has been a shining light for equal justice and opportunity within the Obama Administration, protecting the civil rights of all Americans in employment, housing, education, law enforcement, and beyond,” said Alan Jenkins, executive director of The Opportunity Agenda.
More traditional labor unions have also welcomed Perez. For example, a spokesperson for labor federation AFL-CIO said, “The AFL-CIO believes Perez would bring the skills and passion working people need to an important agency.”
In a statement, Edwin D. Hill, president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, said, “With workers’ rights increasingly under attack, it’s good to have a labor secretary who understands that his number one job is to uphold working standards and uplift working families.”