Unions lost a key ally in the Obama Administration when Hilda Solis resigned earlier this year as Secretary of Labor. However, the President appears poised to pick a backer of a key Big Labor policy as her successor.
Thomas Perez, currently an Assistant Attorney General in the Justice Department, is rumored to be the pick. Prior to Obama’s election, he served as Maryland Secretary of Labor, Licensing, and Regulations under Governor Martin O’Malley.
His key labor initiative in Maryland was a law to strengthen penalties on what unions call “worker misclassification.” Employers are allowed to apply a statutory test to determine whether a worker is an independent contractor or an employee, which determines the amount of taxes the employer must pay and whether the worker can be in a union. Independent contractors cannot, so unions like to see more workers classified as employees.
Maryland’s tougher law, backed by Perez as Labor Commissioner, increased penalties for misclassifying workers in the construction and landscaping industries and puts heavy burdens on employers using independent contractors to prove workers are correctly classified.
The Baltimore Sun reported in 2008 that his Department went after a small maker of cloth knickknacks — under previously existing law — that provided independent work to seamstresses who lost jobs to factories moving overseas. It took the passage of a separate exemption law to prevent that and similar “Made in America” businesses from closing down. But then again, “Closed” has been the New Union Label for some time.