WASHINGTON (AP) — 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.
Some long-awaited rules could affect the disabled and increase wages for home health care workers.
“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, the 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.
“American workers have an advocate in the Labor Department who will protect and defend workers’ rights — from collective bargaining to workplace safety to retirement security,” said Lee Saunders, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
The Senate confirmed Perez last month on a party-line 54-46 vote, part of a deal in which Republicans agreed to end stalling tactics over several of President Barack Obama’s nominees.
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.
Labor Department spokesman Carl Fillichio declined to comment on specific rules. He referred to the White House’s regulatory agenda, which lists several key rules poised for release in the months ahead.
One rule that could be finalized in the coming months would require most companies with federal contracts to set a goal of having disabled workers make up 7 percent of their workforce.
With federal contractors employing nearly one-quarter of the nation’s workforce, the rule could help lower the perennially high unemployment rate for disabled workers, now standing at 14.7 percent. That’s twice the national 7.4 percent unemployment rate for those without disabilities. Business groups complain the goal is too ambitious and could conflict with federal laws that discourage employers from asking about a job applicant’s disability.
Another rule now in the pipeline could apply minimum wage and overtime pay rules to more than 2 million home health care workers. The workers are now exempt from the rules. The exemption dates back to the 1970s, when home care aides were compared to neighborhood baby sitters, not professional caregivers.