President Obama yesterday announced the nomination of Thomas E. Perez to be the next secretary of labor.
If confirmed, Perez, who currently heads up the Civil Rights Division at the Justice Department, would replace Hilda L. Solis, who stepped down in January.
Obama said Perez’ story reminds us of “this country’s promise, that if you’re willing to work hard, it doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from, what your last name is, you can make it if you try.”
Perez, the son of Dominican immigrants, helped pay his way through college working as a garbage collector and in a warehouse. He went on to become the first lawyer in his family.
The announcement drew predictably mixed reactions. Perez’s nomination was cheered by progressives and by Hispanic groups, who have pushed for more representation in the Cabinet.
AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka said Perez “has worked to eliminate discrimination in housing, provide access to education and health care, end hate crimes, crack down on employers who cheat workers out of wages and expand our democracy by protecting the fundamental right of every American to vote.” Trumka added that Perez’ efforts to to pass comprehensive immigration reform in the 1990s “will serve him well in today’s drive for commonsense immigration reform.”
Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama), called the pick “needlessly divisive” and said Perez has “aggressively sought ways to allow the hiring of more illegal workers.”
The next Secretary of Labor will likely become embroiled in some already hot-button topics: a planned overhaul of immigration laws that will possibly give the country's 11 million illegal immigrants a pathway to citizenship, and a bid – already announced by the president – to raise the minimum wage to $9 per hour from its current level of $7.25.
Perez was born in Buffalo, NY. He was graduated from Harvard Law School and has spent his entire career in public service.