In a move set to placate supporters of organized labor and Hispanic voters alike, President Obama is predicted to nominate head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division Thomas Perez ’83 as the next Secretary of Labor. If in fact nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate, Perez would fill a position left empty since former Secretary Hilda L. Solis resigned in January.
A first-generation Dominican-American, Perez has long been involved in labor issues, particularly those regarding immigrant workers’ rights. After his father died of a heart attack, twelve year-old Perez was adopted by a friend of his father’s, an unemployed Teamster who received support from the union. Perez went on to attend Brown and then Harvard Law, after which he worked in a variety of public service and civil rights positions in government before adopting his current and most well-known post as the assistant attorney general at the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department.
Perez’s impressive track record in the Justice Department, marked by fights against racial profiling and voter discrimination – including the prosecution of the infamous Maricopa County, AZ sheriff Joe Arpaio – suggests that he will pursue policies geared toward ending labor offenses against immigrants and minorities. Enforcing minimum wage is also likely to be a priority.
So far, the potential nomination has not been without its fair share of controversy; Republican Congressmen recently launched an investigation into Perez’s alleged involvement in the dropping of a St. Louis housing discrimination lawsuit. Still, the positive feedback Obama’s choice has already generated from labor rights groups, including the ACLU, indicates that Perez is a figure to whom workers can look for aid and legal support in the near future.