The Spectacle Blog

Reid Files Cloture on Controversial Obama Labor Nominee

By on 1.28.10 | 5:58PM

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has filed cloture on the nomination of Patricia Smith to be solicitor of the Department of Labor. While her nomination hasn't received that much attention, I wrote about her record in New York in a piece that appeared in the December/January issue of the print magazine:

(Obama) also tapped two women with close ties to unions -- Patricia Smith and Lorelei Boylan -- for other top positions within the department. While working for the New York State Department of Labor, Smith and Boylan spearheaded a controversial program in which the state partners with unions and other liberal community groups to police workplaces.

"Just as no one wants to live in an area riddled with crime, nobody wants to live in a neighborhood where workers are paid sweatshop wages," Smith said when announcing the program in January 2009. "New York Wage Watch will increase labor law compliance by giving regular people a formal role in creating lawful workplaces statewide, and thereby improving the quality of life in their communities. It will also help law-abiding employers, who struggle to compete with businesses that undercut them by violating the law."

But in practice empowering "regular people" actually means that the government is deputizing unions to help police workplaces.

"New York Wage Watch is labor law enforcement at the purest, most grassroots level," boasted Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, in the press release announcing the program.

Boylan, who runs the initiative, was nominated by Obama to head the U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour division, but her nomination was withdrawn in October. Smith, who actually devised the Wage Watch program in New York, was appointed by Obama to be solicitor of labor. Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY) placed her nomination on hold, meaning that Democrats will need 60 votes to move it forward. Her status was still in limbo as of this writing.

Americans for Limited Government has more on Smith here. The group notes that the Solicitor of Labor position is "the third highest official and the person with the final word on all legal advice in the Department."

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