Perez, DNC Chair, repeats party fealty to labor with add-ons
Tom Perez, DNC Chair and former Secretary of Labor under President Obama | AP

WASHINGTON —Democratic National Chairman Tom Perez has once again pledged his political party’s fealty to organized labor – and pleaded for workers’ votes. But in a speech in D.C. in mid-February, he offered few specifics.

The only specific future aim Perez uttered, after enumerating his achievements for workers as Maryland Labor Commissioner and Democratic President Barack Obama’s Labor Secretary, was to state the 84-year-old National Labor Relations Act “is ill-suited to the rules of 21st century America,” and needs an overhaul.

And he wasn’t even specific about what that should look like, either.

Perez was the closing speaker on a session on politics during the Feb. 8-9 conference on the future of U.S. unions, sponsored by the Century Foundation and the Albert Shanker Institute, a think-tank the Teachers (AFT) established.

Politics, yes. Especially politics blasting GOP President Donald Trump. Labor specifics, no.

Perez spent much of his speech attacking Trump and his minions for anti-worker actions. He started with an example from the day before, when Trump’s DOL dumped an Occupational Safety and Health Administration illness-and-injury reporting rule “that we did.”

The rule from Perez’s OSHA would have forced firms to report illnesses and injuries more frequently, let the agency aggregate data and publish them on the Internet – so that firms and workers could see where they placed in the standings of job ailments in their industries – and required firms to keep the data for five years, not six months.

“While he was tweeting,” Perez said of Trump, “labor rights were being undermined for millions of workers.”

And that wasn’t the worst thing Perez, a Buffalo native, had to say about Trump. Instead, he found a new autocrat to compare Trump to: Hungarian President Viktor Orban.

“I’ve been studying Orban,” the former Labor Secretary said. “Here’s what he does: Step 1, undermine the media. Step 2, undermine the institutions of civil society. Step 3: Get re-elected through sham elections. Step 4: Go after the judiciary.”

Except for re-election, Trump’s done that, too, Perez said. “It’s no coincidence there are unrelenting attacks by the far right” and the president “on the labor movement and on Planned Parenthood, because you are the central pillars in the progressive ecosystem of America.”

They’re also part of the civil society Trump tears into.

While the Buffalo native spent part of speech talking the pro-worker values he learned there and then took to Maryland and DOL, he also reminded the crowd of how he implemented them – and of how Trump isn’t.

Perez contrasted his DOL’s promulgation of a revised “persuader rule,” designed to force union-busters to disclose their spending both more often and in more specifics, with Trump’s dumping of that rule, too.

“And we gave minimum wages and overtime pay to” the nation’s two million “home health care workers,” he declared. His department also went after firms for misclassifying workers as “independent contractors,” uncovered by labor laws, and forced to pay their own way for everything from gasoline and tires to Social Security and workers comp taxes.

“In state government, we called that what it was: Fraud! And in Buffalo, we called it ‘cheatin.’’”

Trump and the radical right, Perez asserted, are carrying out a campaign to impose their ideology on the entire country. “I see these assaults,” including the ones on workers and unions “as part of a long-standing, long-term plan, underwritten by ALEC and far-right money,” he added, referring to the shady, rich and secretive American Legislative Exchange Council a cabal of corporate honchos, lobbyists and right-wing state lawmakers. All but a few are Republicans.

“They understand, long-term, they’ve gotta take over statehouses, as well as court houses, as well as the White House,” he explained. Meanwhile, labor “is the first responders heading towards that fire.”

That’s one reason, Perez declared, “The Democratic Party will always be a partner of the labor movement. My former boss, Teddy Kennedy, once asked: ‘How do you spell success? U-N-I-O-N.’ “


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.