Labor Spotlight: A Q&A with Thomas Perez

Labor Spotlight: A Q&A with Thomas Perez

Labor Spotlight: A Q&A with Thomas Perez
September 2, 2015

City & State: A New York state wage board recently recommended increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour for fast food workers. With a national increase in minimum wage unlikely, are you seeing more of a move toward this piecemeal approach?

Thomas Perez: You shouldn’t have to win the boss lottery, or the geographic lottery, in order to earn a fair day’s pay for an honest day’s work. No one who works full time should have to raise their family in poverty, and so President Barack Obama will continue to press Congress to raise the national minimum wage, a step they haven’t taken in eight years. Until they do, however, we encourage all states and local governments not to wait for congressional leadership and to lift their own minimum wages. Seventeen states, in fact, have done so since the beginning of 2013.

C&S: Are there side effects or downsides to only increasing the minimum wage for specific industries?

TP: If a minimum wage increase is industrywide, that means all businesses within the industry are competing on a level playing field, so the increase won’t generate unintended consequences. That said, it would be great to go further than increasing the minimum wage just for isolated industries. Low-wage workers across the board deserve a raise. 

C&S: Historically there have been cycles of growth and decline in the economy. We are experiencing steady growth now. How long do you expect that to continue and is the Labor Department preparing for a potential recession?

TP: I don’t have a crystal ball, but I feel pretty bullish about the trajectory of the U.S. economy. Thanks to the ingenuity of our businesses, the resilience of our workers and leadership from President Obama, we have emerged from the worst economic crisis in generations. As of the end of July, private employers have created 13 million new jobs over the last 65 consecutive months of job growth. The fundamentals of the economy are strong. 

C&S: You have taken an active role in the debate on paid family leave. We have seen some movement in New York City on this. Is the path forward on this issue through state and city action, or is there a path to a national paid family leave act?

TP: It is simply not right that we’re the only advanced economy on earth with no national paid family leave law. But we’re seeing a clear momentum shift now, with growing public support and a broader understanding that paid leave is good for workers, good for businesses and good for the economy. I believe a national paid leave law is a question of “when,” not “if.” And as is so often the case, today’s forward progress at the state and local level – like New York City’s new paid sick day law – will eventually lead to congressional action and national reform. Sometimes, change comes to Washington, not from Washington. 

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