Talk of Labor chief as VP riles industry

Talk of Labor chief as VP riles industry
© Getty Images

Vice President Tom Perez?

Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonO’Rourke heading to Wisconsin amid 2020 speculation The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Kidney Care Partners — Lawmakers scramble as shutdown deadline nears Exclusive: Biden almost certain to enter 2020 race MORE is considering it, much to the displeasure of business interests in Washington that have clashed frequently with the Labor secretary during his time in President Obama’s Cabinet.

ADVERTISEMENT

Perez has moved aggressively on the regulatory front since taking over as the Department of Labor’s chief in 2013, expanding overtime pay to some 4 million Americans, requiring that employers disclose actions
taken to counter union organizing efforts and pushing a rule not yet completed that would force federal contractors to disclose labor law violations.

Those actions have endeared Perez to the left, stirring talk that he could be an effective running mate for Clinton, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.

But some industry groups in Washington say picking Perez would be a slap in the face.

“If she picks someone hostile to small businesses, that sends an alarming message to the business community,” said Jack Mozloom, a spokesman for the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB). “We wouldn’t regard this is as a positive.”

Clinton has campaigned on promises to be “the small-business president,” but Mozloom argued that picking an aggressive regulator like Perez would undercut that message. Recent polls from the NFIB, he said, show that business owners list regulations among their top headaches.

If Clinton picks Perez, “trial lawyers will be popping champagne corks, but anyone making a living running a small business will probably go to the aspirin bottle,” Mozloom said.

Perez, the son of Dominican immigrants, formerly served as the assistant attorney general for civil rights at the Department of Justice. He has had a long career in government, starting as a clerk for Attorney General Edwin Meese during the Ronald Reagan administration.

The Labor secretary has played it coy when asked about the possibility of becoming Clinton’s running mate, saying he’s “had no conversations” with her about it, though he has participated on calls for her campaign. On a call last month, he warned that presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpBill Kristol resurfaces video of Pence calling Obama executive action on immigration a 'profound mistake' ACLU says planned national emergency declaration is 'clear abuse of presidential power' O'Rourke says he'd 'absolutely' take down border wall near El Paso if he could MORE would be a “train wreck” for Hispanics should he win the White House.

“Donald Trump’s America is about the haves and the have-nots,” Perez said.

With the Hispanic vote becoming increasingly critical in presidential elections, Clinton has indicated a strong interest in picking a Hispanic for vice president, which would be a first in U.S. history. In addition to Perez, other Hispanics reportedly under consideration for the No. 2 job are Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, Rep. Xavier BecerraXavier BecerraOvernight Energy: Court rules for Trump in environmental case over border wall | House bill would stop Alaska refuge drilling | Ads target Dems over Green New Deal Appeals court sides with Trump in border wall prototype dispute The Hill's Morning Report - Trump speech was great theater but unlikely to change much MORE (D-Calif.) and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.

Hispanic groups have spoken out in favor of Perez, as have labor unions.

In a statement to The Hill, the American Federation of Government Employees said Perez understands the needs of working people like few other officials in Washington.

“He believes in the power of collective bargaining to raise wages and living standards, which will benefit any presidential candidate campaigning before a nation yearning for answers to skyrocketing income inequality,” J. David Cox Sr., the group’s national president, said in a statement. “We believe Secretary Perez is an eminently qualified candidate for vice president.”

Business groups see things differently, having clashed with Perez repeatedly over regulations that they say are doing serious harm to the economy.

Perez has received the most backlash for the overtime rule, which opponents say will force employers to either raise salaries above the proposed $47,476 threshold to avoid additional overtime costs or demote salaried workers to hourly employees.

“He has pushed this ideological agenda since he stepped foot in that position,” said Heather Greenaway, executive director of the Workforce Fairness Institute, a pro-business group that frequently clashes with labor unions.

Greenaway contends that picking Perez would jeopardize support for Clinton in the business community.

“His stances are deeply troubling and his resume is absent of any experience which would make him sensitive to the real life needs of jobs creators,” she said. “I absolutely think it could hurt her.”

Michael Lotito, who co-chairs the Workplace Policy Institute at law firm Littler Mendelson, said he doubts Perez’s record at the Labor Department would be a liability for Clinton in the general election. He said voters make their choice based on bigger things like trust, character, values and whether they want the candidate in their living room on their television screens every night.

“I doubt people will decide on who to vote for based on the candidate being for or against the blacklisting rule,” he said.  

Still, Lotito said businesses have reason to be wary of Perez in the No. 2 job.

“A vote for Vice President Perez is probably a vote for a continuation of a very aggressive workplace policy agenda that is going to be chock-full of rules, regulations and other challenges,” he said.

“I’d imagine as vice president he’d continue to use that bully pulpit to continue to advance those interests he obviously feels passionate about.”