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Shurtleff: Perez for Labor Secretary

Following the recent confirmation hearing, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee will soon need to decide how to vote on the nomination of Thomas Perez, an accomplished public servant who has been nominated by President Barack Obama to join his Cabinet as secretary of Labor. Although he and I are from different places on the political spectrum and have at times been on different sides of legal issues, I can confidently say that our country is fortunate to have the benefit of his service.

As the chief law enforcement officers of our states, it is imperative that attorneys general be able to work in close collaboration with the Department of Justice. I and a bipartisan group of state AGs who worked directly with Perez over the years recently published a statement in support of his nomination concluding that we “found Perez to be open, responsive and fundamentally fair. He is committed to justice and the rule of law and able to work across party and philosophical lines to achieve just results. The U.S. Department of Labor and the country will be well served by a leader who understands the need to forge partnerships with state and local officials and who values cooperation to bring about successful results for both employers and employees.”

Based on my personal experience and professional assessment of Perez, he has been highly productive, bringing vigor to each of his roles, determined to improve how the office or agency under his authority functions. As Maryland’s secretary of Labor, Licensing and Regulations, he retooled the agency to be able to respond to changing times and pursue sensible policies. As the foreclosure crisis loomed and state AGs came together and worked with other state officials to protect the public, Perez shifted staff and agency resources in Maryland to prioritize the investigation and prosecution of criminals who target homeowners in financial dire straits, preying on their fears and selling them sham foreclosure prevention schemes.

Perez has also consistently shown his collaborative approach to problem-solving, such as when, as Maryland’s secretary of labor, he brought together the banking industry, consumer advocates, and the state’s legislators and judges to create common-sense changes to Maryland’s foreclosure laws that struck the balance between giving homeowners more time to propose solutions to prevent or delay foreclosure and maintaining the rights of financial institutions to enforce the terms of their mortgage loans.

As a former Navy JAG officer, I believe one of the most important and overlooked functions of the Civil Rights Division is enforcement of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act. This law prohibits employers from discriminating against veterans in making hiring, firing and promotion decisions. At a time when so many servicemembers are returning to civilian life from deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, removing any obstacle to getting and holding a job is of critical importance to them and their families. I am personally grateful that Perez distinguished himself by bringing forward a record number of USERRA cases.

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