WASHINGTON — With Thomas Perez now confirmed as head of the Labor Department, the agency is expected to unleash a flurry of new regulations that have been bottled up for months — a prospect that has business leaders worried and labor advocates cheering.
Other rules expected to be finalized in the coming months would:
Require most companies with federal contracts to set a goal of having disabled workers make up 7% of their workforce. Business groups complain the goal is too ambitious and could conflict with laws that discourage employers from asking about a job applicant’s disability.
Strengthen requirements that federal contractors take affirmative action to hire and promote veterans.
Extend minimum wage and overtime pay rules to more than 2 million home health care workers now exempt.
Business groups are also concerned about how aggressively new Labor Secretary Thomas Perez will enforce a new OSHA policy clarification that lets nonunion employees designate a union official to represent them during an OSHA inspection.
Some long-awaited rules would help boost employment for veterans and the disabled, increase wages for home health care workers and set new limits for workplace exposure to dangerous silica dust.
Other, more controversial rules and actions could help labor unions in organizing campaigns and allow union officials to take part in safety inspections at nonunion companies.
“The general view of the business community is that there will be an activist, enforcement agenda,” said Michael Lotito, a San Francisco lawyer who represents employers in labor disputes. “That means there are going to be more lawsuits and the regulatory agenda is going to be alive and well.”
In many cases, pending rules have languished for two years or more, stalled by election-year politics and the delay in installing Perez as labor secretary. Republicans who opposed Perez say his record as head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division was one of ideological activism. But labor and workplace advocates call Perez a champion for workers’ rights.
The Labor Department has increased enforcement of safety, wage and hour laws during Barack Obama’s administration. Former Labor Secretary Hilda Solis declared there was “a new sheriff in town” when she took over in 2009.
But Perez is expected to take things further based on his track record at the Justice Department. He played a leading role in challenging voter ID laws in South Carolina and Texas and was particularly aggressive in bringing housing discrimination cases. As labor secretary in Maryland, Perez was known for actively going after companies that misclassified workers as independent contractors to avoid paying minimum wage and overtime.
“He’ll probably be more hands-on than Solis was,” said Randel Johnson, vice president for labor issues at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
One rule triggering perhaps the strongest opposition in the business community would require employers to disclose the attorneys and consultants they hire to advise them during union organizing drives, even if the consultants have no direct contact with workers.
If the rule is adopted, unions would know whether a company has hired what they refer to as “union-busting” firms and how much those firms are being paid to offer advice. Employers believe union leaders could use such information to embarrass company managers as they try to persuade workers to back unions.