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Tom Perez Tapped to Be Secretary of Labor

Justice Department official had headed Maryland labor regulatory department.

WASHINGTON — President Obama on Monday nominated Thomas Perez, currently head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division, as his next Secretary of Labor.

Perez, an assistant attorney general at Justice, who has headed the agency’s civil rights division for three-and-a-half years, is the son of immigrants from the Dominican Republic.

Prior to his tenure at Justice, Perez was secretary of Maryland’s Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, which enforces workplace safety and wage and hour laws.

If confirmed by the Senate, Perez would take the helm of an agency that enforces regulations that have implications for many segments of the fashion business, including the country’s minimum wage and overtime laws under the Fair Labor Standards Act, as well as health and safety regulations.

The agency also monitors and assists in reducing and eradicating the use of child labor in the garment, footwear and textile industries around the world.

Since 1995 the Labor Department has funded more than 250 child labor projects in more than 90 countries.

The agency publishes an annual list of goods produced by child and forced labor that the fashion industry watches closely.

The Labor Department has also been aggressive in enforcing the FLSA in Southern California. In the past five years, the department has conducted more than 1,500 investigations of employers in Southern California’s garment industry, finding violations in 93 percent of cases, according to the agency.

Perez would assume the Cabinet position at a time when the Obama administration has proposed raising the federal minimum wage to $9 an hour from $7.25 and indexing it to inflation, and is pressing for a major overhaul of immigration laws.

“We’ve got here today Gov. Martin O’Malley (D., Md.), and Martin appointed Tom as Secretary of Maryland’s Department of Labor, where he helped implement the country’s first statewide living-wage law, because he understood that a minimum wage should be a wage that you can live on,” Obama said at the White House announcement. “We’re going to have to work very hard to make sure that folks find jobs with good wages and good benefits. We’ve got to make sure that our veterans who are returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan have a chance to put their incredible skills and leadership to work at home. We need to build an immigration system that works for every employee and every family and every business. I’m confident that Tom is going to be able to work to promote economic growth, but also make sure that that growth is broad-based.”

Perez would succeed Hilda Solis, who left the post in January.