Tom Perez, Obama's Secretary Of Labor And TPP Supporter Pushing Hillary

Tom Perez, Obama's Secretary Of Labor And TPP Supporter Pushing Hillary

Tom Perez met with two members of unions, Unite Here and the Service Employees International Union, in Las Vegas on Dec. 7. (AP Photo)
Labor secretary pitching Clinton to unions
Labor Secretary Tom Perez is using his position to try to build union support for Hillary Clinton. The Cabinet official has been doing campaign stops on her behalf, speaking to labor groups.

Perez met with two members of unions, Unite Here and the Service Employees International Union, in Las Vegas on Dec. 7.

"I'm proud as hell to endorse Hillary Clinton as the next president of the United States," Perez told SEIU members, according a YouTube clip the union posted. "What gets her up in the morning is all of the issues that you fight for every day."

It is unusual for sitting Cabinet members to campaign for a presidential candidate, but it is not unprecedented. Kathleen Sebelius, then the Health and Human Services secretary, was found in 2012 to have violated the Hatch Act when she campaigned for Obama at a taxpayer-funded event in North Carolina that year. The law that prohibits executive branch employees from engaging in political activity while on duty or in the federal workplace.

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It is unlikely that Perez violated the act even though he was speaking to labor organizations, which are directly affected by his agency's actions, because his appearances, unlike Sebelius', do not appear to have involved taxpayer-funded events.

"Cabinet secretaries have much more leeway. The law is really about the use of taxpayer resources more than anything," said Meredith McGehee, policy director at the nonprofit Campaign Legal Center.

"Per the Hatch Act, the secretary's travel was paid for by the [Clinton] campaign. I would direct the other questions to the campaign," said Labor Department spokeswoman Mattie Zazueta.

The department declined to answer whether Perez would be doing further campaigning for Clinton.

Matt Patterson, executive director of the Center for Worker Freedom, a nonprofit affiliated with the conservative group Americans for Tax Reform, said the incident showed the Obama administration was in cahoots with organized labor.

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"At the very least Perez — by urging union members to support Hillary Clinton for president — has abandoned any pretense that his Labor Department is interested in a nonpartisan adjudication of federal labor law. His goal is to increase the power of union bosses, who pick the pockets of workers to fund left-wing causes and candidacies," Patterson said.

Obama's Labor Secretary Tom Perez: A case for the TPP

By Tom Perez
POSTED: 04/16/2015 07:25:17 PM MDT

Our nation's economy is experiencing a dramatic comeback.

As President Obama took office in 2009, we faced the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Millions of Americans had lost their jobs or their homes. American manufacturing was flat on its back.

But thanks to the president's steady leadership, the ingenuity of American businesses, and the resilience of our workers, we've made a remarkable turnaround. We've now seen 61 consecutive months of private sector job growth — the longest streak on record — with 12.1 million new jobs created.

But the president knows this progress doesn't mean we stop. Instead, he's using the momentum to shore up and build on these successes. That's why he's proposing free community college for everyone willing to work for it. It's why he wants to expand access to broadband. It's why he's pushing to provide paid leave for more working families.

And it's why he wants to pursue trade agreements with the strongest labor and environmental commitments in history. As the president said in his State of the Union address, he is asking Congress to give him bipartisan trade promotion authority to "protect American workers, with strong new trade deals from Asia to Europe that aren't just free but fair."

U.S. export sales reached a record $2.34 trillion in 2014. Exporting firms exhibit higher productivity, and the jobs they support pay, on average, up to 18 percent more than jobs in non-exporting intensive industries.

Those national trends hold true in Colorado, where increased trade is helping drive economic growth. A total of $8.4 billion in goods were exported from thousands of Colorado companies in 2014, 26 percent more than in 2004. And it is estimated that exports of Colorado goods (not including services) supported nearly 44,000 jobs last year.

Most of these Colorado exporters are small- and medium-sized businesses, like Lightning Eliminators & Consultants, Inc., in Boulder.

Lightning Eliminators designs and manufactures equipment to protect facilities from lightning strikes. The company, which has 27 employees, exports to over 80 countries around the globe. More than 60 percent of its sales can be attributed to exports. President and CEO Matt Napier says the knowledge gained from doing international business "has been integral to Lightning Eliminators' continued success, and without exporting, that success would be limited." Expanded market opportunities through trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) will help companies like Lightning Eliminators grow further and create more jobs.

Understandably, some are concerned about the impacts of new trade agreements. They raise valid questions about protecting jobs and wages, about workers' rights and environmental protections. Recognizing that previous trade agreements have not always lived up to the hype, the president is deeply committed to raising the bar on these issues.

That means making sure that under our trade agreements, countries must — and in practice do — meet strong labor standards. And it means including enforcement mechanisms to hold them accountable to those commitments. The president is asking for support from Congress to help make this happen by passing Trade Promotion Authority. This way, international trade not only reflects our national values; it also helps U.S. companies and workers compete on a level playing field. As the president said in the State of the Union, if we don't establish tough, fair rules through trade agreements, countries like China will write those rules. That would threaten American jobs and workers — and our access to the fastest growing markets in the world.

A trade policy that's good for the middle class must also make sure that our workforce system and the Trade Adjustment Assistance Program can act quickly and flexibly to help transitioning workers access new skills and find new opportunities. It must also do more to see that the gains from trade are more broadly shared. That's why we are taking steps to lift wages, for example by revising the rules that determine eligibility for overtime pay. It's why we continue to push for an increase in the national minimum wage that will give a raise to millions of workers.

Trade agreements like the TPP are critical to our 21st century competitiveness. With the help of Trade Promotion Authority, we can use these agreements to raise labor standards and improve working conditions around the world while ensuring a level playing field for our workers back home. And we can use them to grow our own economy and create new opportunities for Colorado workers and businesses.

Tom Perez is the U.S. secretary of labor.