After Labor Secretary Alex Acosta announcing his resignation on Friday in the wake of outrage over the deal he brokered for alleged child rapist Jeffrey Epstein, President Donald Trump said the department’s number two, Deputy Labor Secretary Patrick Pizzella, would now serve as the acting secretary.
Pizzella, a former member of the Federal Labor Relations Authority and one of Trump’s many anti-labor appointees, had previously come under fire for his links to lobbyist and convicted felon Jack Abramoff and their work in the 1990s to foster worker abuses on the Northern Mariana Islands.
As the New York Times reported over a decade ago, the commonwealth hired Abramoff in 1995 to help keep out U.S. minimum wage and other labor protections, allowing for the island chain to foster an environment ripe for slave-like labor where clothes can be stamped with a made-in-the U.S.A. label.
Pizzella, as Mother Jones laid out in 2017, played a key role in the operation.
The centerpiece of Pizzella’s work was organizing all-inclusive junkets for members of Congress and their wives, congressional staffers, and conservative influencers such as pollster Kellyanne Fitzpatrick—who now goes by her married name, Kellyanne Conway, and advises President Donald Trump—with first-class airfare and lodging at the beachfront Hyatt Regency on Saipan.
The influential group could then report back on their carefully-curated trips—visits that did not include the horrific conditions at sweatshops and garment manufacturers, where workers were brought from other countries, predominately Bangladesh, China, and the Philippines. Having been hoodwinked into believing they were coming to the U.S. mainland, the workers were subjected to abuses including forced abortions.
In a letter to lawmakers ahead of Pizzella’s Senate confirmation, Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, expressed her coalition’s opposition to Pizzella as Labor’s deputy secretary given his past.
Gupta wrote, in part:
As we previously noted, Mr. Pizzella worked closely with Jack Abramoff to lobby for policies on the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands that essentially allowed for unchecked slave labor to be performed with the imprimatur of the “Made in the U.S.A.” label on goods and clothing. At his hearing, Mr. Pizzella repeatedly refused to offer straightforward answers to simple questions posed by senators and provided no real assurances that he is committed to protecting the rights of workers.
Mr. Pizzella, if confirmed, would essentially be the Chief Operating Officer of the department tasked with protecting a wide range of core labor rights, including proper payment under the wage and hour laws, the civil rights of federal contract workers, the Family and Medical Leave Act, and the Occupational Safety and Health Act, and more. Yet he has not done enough to repudiate his past record of defending companies that routinely ignored these rights, and he has not given workers adequate reason to believe that he will defend their rights in the future.
“By any reasonable standard,” wrote Care2 contributor Kevin Matthews, “aiding in worker ‘exploitation’ should preclude Pizzella from overseeing fair labor standards, not put him in line to become the Secretary of Labor’s right-hand man.”
Acosta, in his resignation letter (pdf), does not mention where he will head to next. Epstein, meanwhile, was charged this week with sex trafficking. And Abramoff is free after four years in prison and has returned to lobbying, with his efforts now including trying to defeat the Green New deal.
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