Trump can continue cabinet wins with Labor secretary who uses the bully pulpit
Author: Michael Saltsman
Publication Date: November 2016
Newspaper: The Hill
President-elect Donald Trump has so far surprised his critics on the right by considering Cabinet secretaries with a reputation for thoughtful leadership rather than anti-establishment bomb-throwing. As he now looks at candidates to run the Labor Department, he should take a lesson from current Labor Secretary Tom Perez and nominate someone who understands the value of the bully pulpit.
The Perez Labor Department has made a name for itself with costly and intrusive rule-makings (best known by phrases like “overtime” or “persuader”) that have drawn the ire of the business community. In a Washington Post interview, Perez boasted of his aggressive approach: “I’m not waiting for a functional Congress to do my job.” Perez’s legacy has recently taken a hit in the courts, but it will live on thanks to his state-by-state advocacy for a dramatic increase in the starter wage.
A visit to Labor Department’s minimum wage website feels like a trip to an alternate economic universe. Featured videos, tweets and shareable images promote the benefits of a new wage mandate.
On a page labeled “Studies,” the DOL offers a meticulously cherry-picked list of reports that suggest there are few if any drawbacks from raising the minimum wage. On the “Mythbusters” page, those concerned about wage hike-related job losses are reassured that the policy has “little to no negative effect on employment” and can even boost job growth.
The best and most credible research on the subject — as summarized last year in a paper released by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco — shows otherwise. But no matter: the secretary has taken this message on the road, visiting more than 40 states in his short time on the job and encouraging them to be equally aggressive.
This year, he’s visited New York and California to praise their embrace of a $15 minimum wage, and to take partial credit for their success. In an interview with KTLA in Los Angeles, Perez admitted of the state and local campaigns: “[Q]uite frankly, we are aiding and abetting them.”
He means it: Beyond the photo-ops, the Post reported that DOL “embedded a staffer in Seattle” to help with implementation of the city’s $15 minimum wage, counseled mayors on how to overcome business opposition, and offered grants to study policy design for new benefit mandates.
Not surprisingly, Perez is loved by unions and the advocacy organizations they fund; the executive director of the National Employment Law Project said Perez was second only to Francis Perkins, the first secretary of Labor, in the pantheon of her successors.
The employees and small businesses dealing with the policies Perez is promoting are less enthusiastic: In both New York and California, dozens of business have laid off staff, left the state or shut down because of extreme starter wage mandates. The New York Post reported on one such business, a Bensonhurst restaurant called the Del Rio Diner that shut down after 40 years in business. (More stories are available on FacesOf15.com.)
Perez has preached a false gospel on wage mandates, and it will take an equally aggressive successor who’s willing to speak our and show state and local legislators why he’s wrong. Restaurant CEO Andy Puzder, who’s been mentioned as a leading candidate for Labor secretary, has frequently made the case on television and in print about the real-world harm caused by wage and benefit mandates.
That’s the model a Trump Labor Department should follow in an era where the Service Employees International Union is spending millions of dollars to promote its $15 cause to the public.
Whether the percent annual economic growth promised by Trump is possible remains to be seen. Nominating a Labor secretary who promotes policies that boost job creation rather than reduce it is a good first step.