WASHINGTON * With Thomas Perez now confirmed as head of the Labor
Department, the agency is expected to unleash a flurry of new
regulations that have been bottled up for months a prospect that
has business leaders worried and labor advocates cheering.
Some long-awaited rules would help boost employment for veterans
and the disabled, increase wages for home health care workers and
set new limits for workplace exposure to dangerous silica dust.
Other, more controversial rules and actions could help labor
unions in organizing campaigns and allow union officials to take
part in safety inspections at nonunion companies.
"The general view of the business community is that there will be
an activist, enforcement agenda," said Michael Lotito, a lawyer from
San Francisco who represents employers in labor disputes. "That
means there are going to be more lawsuits and the regulatory agenda
is going to be alive and well."
In many cases, the pending rules have languished for two years or
more, stalled by election-year politics and the delay in installing
Perez as labor secretary. Republicans who opposed Perez say his
record as head of the Justice Department's civil rights division was
one of ideological activism. But labor and workplace advocates call
Perez a champion for workers' rights.
"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
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
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
Labor Department spokesman Carl Fillichio declined to comment on
specific rules. He referred to the White House's regulatory agenda,
which lists several key rules poised for release in the months
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. …