US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions

Statement of Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) at the HELP Committee Confirmation Hearing for Secretary of Labor-Designate Thomas E. Perez

Thursday, April 18, 2013

*As Prepared for Delivery*

“I am pleased to welcome our distinguished nominee for Secretary of Labor, Thomas Perez, and I thank our two Senators from Maryland for their gracious introductions. 

"As we have just heard, Tom Perez’s life is the story of the American Dream.  The child of immigrants from the Dominican Republican, he lost his father at a young age.  He worked very hard at not-very-glamorous jobs to put himself through Brown University -- working at a warehouse, as a garbage collector, and in the school dining hall.  His incredible work ethic helped him graduate with honors from Harvard Law School and the Kennedy School of Government.  With such an impressive resume, Tom Perez could have done pretty much anything with those degrees and accomplishments.  He could have made a lot of money in the private sector and lived an easy life.

“Instead, Mr. Perez chose to become a public servant.  And he has dedicated his career to ensuring that every American has the same opportunity that he had to pursue the American Dream.  From his early years at the Department of Justice, where he helped prosecute racially-motivated hate crimes and chaired a task force to prevent worker exploitation, to his time at the Maryland Department of Labor, where he helped struggling families avoid foreclosure and revamped the state’s adult education system, Mr. Perez has demonstrated his unwavering commitment to building opportunity for all Americans. 

“Nowhere is this commitment more evident than through his work as the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights at the Department of Justice.   In his current position, Mr. Perez has restored vitality to our civil rights laws and broken down barriers that have prevented too many Americans from participating in the promise of our great county.  He has helped more Americans achieve the dream of home ownership though his unprecedented efforts to prevent residential lending discrimination.  He has helped ensure that people with disabilities have the choice to live in their own homes and communities—rather than only in institutional settings—and to receive supports and services to make this possible.  He has stepped up the Department’s efforts to protect the employment rights of servicemembers, so that our men and women in uniform can return to their jobs and support their families after serving their county. 

“It is this commitment to building opportunity for all that makes Tom Perez an ideal choice for Secretary of Labor. 

“Of all the Executive Agencies, it may be the Department of Labor that touches the lives of ordinary working Americans the most on a day-to-day basis.  The Department of Labor ensures that every American receives a fair day’s pay for hard day’s work, and can come home from work safely each night.  It helps ensure that a working mother can stay home to bond with her newborn child and still have a job to return to.  It helps workers who have been laid off, veterans returning from military service, and others who face special employment challenges to build new skills and better opportunities for the future.  And it helps guarantee that hardworking people who have saved all their lives for retirement can enjoy their golden years with security and peace of mind. 

“As our country continues to move down the road to economic recovery, the work of the Department of Labor will become even more critical.  The Department will play a vital role in determining what kind of recovery we have – a recovery that benefits only a select few, or one that rebuilds a strong American middle class, where everyone who works hard and plays by the rules can build a better life.

“Now more than ever, we need a dynamic leader at the helm of the Department of Labor who will embrace a bold vision of shared prosperity, and help make that vision a reality for American families.  I am confident that Tom Perez is up to this challenge. 

“His professional experience gives me confidence that he has the leadership skills, management experience, and policy expertise to be an effective Secretary of Labor.  And, he has what is perhaps the best credential to lead a labor agency – namely the fact that he has done it before. 

“During his time as the Secretary of the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation, Mr. Perez built a strong reputation as a consensus-builder.  He spearheaded major initiatives on potentially controversial issues, such as unemployment insurance reform and worker misclassification, while finding common ground between workers and businesses to build sensible, commonsense solutions.  He was also an effective manager and a responsible steward of public resources, undertaking significant administrative and organizational reforms that made the Maryland DLLR more efficient and more effective. 

“His outstanding work in Maryland has won him the support of the business community and worker advocates alike.  To quote from the endorsement letter of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce:  “Mr. Perez proved himself to be a pragmatic public official who was willing to bring differing voices together. The Maryland Chamber had the opportunity to work with Mr. Perez on an array of issues of importance to employers in Maryland, from unemployment and workforce development to the housing and foreclosure crisis.  Despite differences of opinion, Mr. Perez was always willing to allow all parties to be heard and we found him to be fair and collaborative. I believe that our experiences with him here in Maryland bode well for the nation.”

“But perhaps even more important than his professional background, Tom’s personal background reassures me that he will lead with heart, with compassion, and with integrity.  I know he has not forgotten what it is like to pick up garbage and see the dignity in that work.  I know he has not forgotten what it is like to struggle for opportunities.  I know he has a passion for fairness and justice – learned at the hand of his former employer and this Committee’s former Chairman, Senator Kennedy – that will serve the Department of Labor, and our entire country, well in the years ahead.

“Like any leader whose career has involved passionate and visionary work for justice, Tom Perez’s career has not been without controversy.  He has had to make difficult decisions.  He has faced management challenges.  As with most public officials, he’s been the target of accusations and mudslinging.  I have looked carefully into Mr. Perez’s background and record of service.  I can assure this Committee that Tom Perez has the strongest possible record of professional integrity, and that any allegations to the contrary are unfounded.  Having delved deeper into the facts and circumstances giving rise to the spurious allegations against him, I can draw only one inevitable conclusion:  that some people don’t like Tom Perez precisely because he is passionate about enforcing our civil rights laws and protecting people’s rights.  In my view, that passion makes him more, not less, qualified to be Secretary of Labor.  In fact, it makes him the ideal person for the job.

“I ask unanimous consent to include in the record approximately 25 letters of support for Mr. Perez’s nomination from a bipartisan array of civil rights organizations, business organizations, labor organizations, and leaders in government and industry, attesting to his leadership skills, policy expertise, professional integrity, and personal character.   These are just a sampling of what we have received – in fact, I have rarely seen such an impressive, diverse showing of support for a nominee.  As these letters – and Mr. Perez’s lifetime of service – so abundantly illustrate, he is a visionary leader who will bring a breadth of knowledge and practical skills to the Department of Labor.  The workers, businesses, and families that rely on the Department each and every day will be very fortunate to have Tom Perez at the helm.  

"Mr. Perez, I thank you for answering the President’s call to serve our country, and I am proud to support your nomination.  I look forward to hearing more about your plans for the Department of Labor.”

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