Trump Manages to Get an Even Worse Labor Secretary Than the Last One

Screenshot: Mother Jones/United States Senate

Last week’s welcome resignation of Labor Secretary Alex Acosta came with a caveat: Acosta appeared to not be entirely on board with the White House’s full-throated deregulation efforts.

His replacement, now-Acting Labor Secretary Patrick Pizzella, will likely not share the same hesitancy. The New York Times took a deep dive into Pizzella’s career, which includes five years spent on the team of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, during which Pizzella lobbied on behalf of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) to prevent Congress from enforcing “federal minimum wage and immigration laws in a place where some workers earned less than $1 an hour.”

Pizzella faced questioning about this lobbying during his confirmation hearing to be Acosta’s deputy in 2017, and claimed he wasn’t aware of widespread worker abuses although he was organizing junkets for congressional Republicans on the same island during that time, according to the Times.

Video: Mother Jones/U.S. Senate

Per the Times:

Large textile manufacturers set up production on the islands. Migrant workers, typically from China and the Philippines, worked long hours for low pay and lived in squalid, crowded dormitories. A 1997 federal government report concluded that nearly the entire private-sector labor force of the commonwealth consisted of “essentially indentured alien workers.”

The report said that foreign women were often coerced into prostitution, and that those who refused were sometimes raped or tortured.

It was Mr. Pizzella’s job to present a kinder, gentler image of the commonwealth to Republicans in Congress and their staffs, who controlled the House and Senate at the time. Allen Stayman, an Interior Department official involved in investigating conditions on the islands, said Mr. Pizzella “was in charge of showing the Potemkin village.”

As the Times notes, it worked. Congress’ efforts in the 1990s to unify labor protections for CNMI with mainland standards failed; it wasn’t until late last year that the minimum wage for workers in CNMI hit $7.25, the federal minimum for U.S. states since 2009.

Described by friend and Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff Marc Short as a “movement conservative,” Pizzella later joined the Bush administration’s Labor Department, and then was nominated by the Obama administration for the Republican seat on the Federal Labor Relations Authority.

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Per the Times:

In several cases, Mr. Pizzella used cutting language to describe employees and identified them by name in his opinions, breaking with the agency’s traditional approach of withholding names. The naming and disparaging of workers risked exposing them to harassment, said Carol Waller Pope, the agency’s chairwoman for most of Mr. Pizzella’s tenure. (The authority typically named only the union bringing the grievance.)

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Yes, this definitely seems like someone who cares about the plight of workers. The Trump administration sure knows how to pick them. Read the full story at the New York Times.

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