Trump’s New Top Labor Official Is Expected to Advance an Anti-Labor Agenda
Congressional Republicans, members of their staffs and conservative activists regularly flew first class to Saipan, an island just north of Guam in the Pacific Ocean. They slept at the beachfront Hyatt Regency, and dined on fresh Japanese cuisine.
The junkets in the late 1990s were organized by Patrick Pizzella. The Northern Mariana Islands, a commonwealth of the United States, had hired him to ensure that Congress did not impose federal minimum wage and immigration laws in a place where some workers earned less than $1 an hour.
Mr. Pizzella, a genial lobbyist and government official who has spent years advocating the interests of businesses, is set to become the top Trump administration official protecting workers’ rights when he takes over as acting labor secretary this week. He will fill the vacancy left when Alex Acosta resigned amid criticism of a plea deal he approved in 2008 with Jeffrey Epstein, the financier who has been accused of sex trafficking.
A longtime free-market evangelist, Mr. Pizzella, 65, has built a four-decade career in the conservative Republican mold, fighting regulation and organized labor.
His appointment is far more consequential than those of the many acting secretaries who have served in President Trump’s patchwork cabinet. The man he succeeds, Mr. Acosta, spent two years battling other White House officials who demanded that he push through a sweeping anti-union agenda and coordinate his actions with the president’s political team.
Mr. Pizzella, who is close to many of the conservatives allied with Mr. Trump’s acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, and on Vice President Mike Pence’s staff, is expected to be a significantly more cooperative partner in those efforts, according to administration and industry officials.
“Pat will be great — he is a movement conservative,” said Marc Short, Mr. Pence’s chief of staff and a friend of Mr. Pizzella’s for two decades. “I think it’s fair to say that while he will be focused on issues of workplace safety, he will also work to ensure that the workplace is not overly burdened with regulations.”When he filled the lone Republican slot at the Federal Labor Relations Authority during the Obama administration, Mr. Pizzella compared union representatives to the mob-connected bosses from the Marlon Brando film “On the Waterfront.”
He cheered a federal-court decision that struck down potential restrictions on investigating unions. As a Labor Department official during President George W. Bush’s administration in 2008, he bemoaned the “staggering costs” of paid work time that government employees used to conduct union business, which is authorized by labor law and union contracts.
Alex Acosta, the secretary of labor, defended a plea deal he reached with Jeffrey Epstein in 2008 during a news conference last week.CreditErik S Lesser/EPA, via Shutterstock
White House officials have good reason to expect more cooperation from Mr. Pizzella.
As an undergraduate student at the University of South Carolina, he wrote columns for the school newspaper, including one in 1972 in which he criticized Senator George McGovern, the recently defeated Democratic presidential nominee, for sending his daughter to an upscale suburban school near Washington.
“The hypocrisy continues as McGovern expresses the opinion that he represents the working man,” Mr. Pizzella wrote. “That’s similar to Hitler saying he represented the Jewish people in Germany during the 1930s.”
After college, Mr. Pizzella went on to work for Ronald Reagan in the 1976 Republican primaries, according to a 2001 profile in The New Republic. He subsequently held a series of government appointments, building a formidable list of conservative contacts.
In the mid-1990s, Mr. Pizzella joined the lobbying arm of the law firm Preston Gates, where Jack Abramoff, who was later convicted of defrauding clients, had set up a growing lobbying practice. One of the firm’s biggest clients in the late 1990s was the Northern Mariana Islands, which was exempt from federal minimum wage and immigration laws but could sell products under a “Made in the U.S.A.” label.
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.”
One person on a trip to the commonwealth organized by Mr. Pizzella recalled meetings with senior officials of the local government in which the officials discussed their interest in making the commonwealth a laboratory for conservative policies like school vouchers. Mr. Pizzella also showed visitors factories and dormitories that were crowded but clean.
The lobbying efforts were effective. Legislation that would have applied the minimum wage and immigration laws to the commonwealth went nowhere in the House in the 1990s. At his 2017 confirmation hearings to become deputy labor secretary, Mr. Pizzella dismissed the reported abuses as “allegations” and said his job was strictly to lobby against the minimum wage.
Mr. Pizzella joined Mr. Bush’s administration in 2001, serving for nearly eight years as an assistant labor secretary for administration and management, but the Obama era gave him an even higher profile. As conservatives mobilized against Democratic policies, Mr. Pizzella joined the Conservative Action Project, which worked to establish alliances between socially and fiscally conservative organizations.
Mr. Pizzella convened meetings where conservative groups coordinated campaigns against Mr. Obama’s health care, climate change and labor policies, said Tim Phillips, the president of Americans for Prosperity, one such organization.
Original post can be located at THE NEW YORK TIMES