Tom Perez Elected New DNC Chairman

It took a few rounds of voting, but Tom Perez eventually bested Rep. Keith Ellison by a narrow margin to become the newest Chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC). His first action after receiving the gavel from Interim Chair Donna Brazile was to make a motion to appoint Rep. Ellison Deputy Chair. The motion was seconded and immediately passed by acclamation.

The following was lifted from an American Prospect article about Perez that was published last summer.

In mid-May, the United States labor secretary flew on Air Force Two with Vice President Joe Biden to Columbus, Ohio. There, at a downtown outlet of a socially conscious, all-natural ice cream chain, they announced the White House’s bold new overtime rule, which Perez is widely credited for making as strong as possible. The rule will likely increase incomes for millions of workers; many have already cast it as the administration’s biggest second-term domestic policy achievement.

The weekend before the overtime announcement, Perez met privately with the CEO of Verizon and the leaders of two unions, 40,000 of whose members were embroiled in an increasingly contentious strike—the largest and longest U.S. work stoppage in years—against the company. Perez convinced Verizon and the unions to go back to the table and restart negotiations. Less than two weeks later, Verizon and the unions announced that they had reached a contract—one that’s been heralded as an unusually strong win for workers in a time when workers seldom win anything at all.

In his three years as President Barack Obama’s second-term labor secretary, Perez has become one of the most prominent members of the president’s cabinet and has worked his way into the White House inner circle. With the administration’s ability to promote its domestic agenda—centered on policies to revive the middle class—limited almost entirely to the executive branch, Perez’s department has arguably become the White House’s most important asset.

“Everything is a workaround, just about,” Perez told employees at the website Gawker last year. “I’m not waiting for a functional Congress to do my job. And the good news is, I have ample tools in my toolbox to do my job,” he told The Washington Post. His mission, as the Post describes it, is to “shore up workers’ rights with the regulatory equivalents of duct tape and string.”

Perez has proven himself an able handyman, steering a dizzying array of labor rules and regulations through Washington’s often-stymied bureaucracy despite constant political threats and general hostility coming from Republicans and the business lobby. Those include not only the overtime rule, but an expansion of federal labor protections to cover home-care workers; a long-shot crusade to establish new standards in the retirement-advising industry; an executive order to use the federal government’s contracting process to create good jobs; and a stern guidance aimed at stopping rampant worker misclassification.

As Perez has steadily risen through the ranks of government, he has effectively shifted the trajectories of the institutions where he’s worked—from Montgomery County Council and the Maryland state government to the Justice Department’s civil-rights division and now the DOL—in a more progressive direction. At each stage, he’s won admirers—from civil-rights and immigrant-rights advocates to labor activists.

Perez has proven himself a highly effective public face for the department. He often takes his office on the road to lift up the struggles of those he can’t necessarily help with the current rules and regulations. He’s constantly traveling across the country to meet with low-wage workers fighting for a $15 minimum wage, state and local policy-makers considering paid family leave laws, and business leaders who have enacted “high road” policies.

Perez was out in front on the Fight for 15 long before others saw its potential, understanding early on that the campaign wasn’t about raising the federal minimum wage, but rather creating momentum at the state and local levels and putting pressure on private-sector employers to boost wages. “The Fight for $15 is more than a number,” Perez has said. “This is a movement for fairness and voice.”

“[In the Clinton administration] they were always looking over their shoulders, always worrying about what the Republicans in Congress would do and how the business community would react,” says Ross Eisenbrey, vice president of the Economic Policy Institute, who first outlined the overtime rule change that Obama eventually championed.

“Tom Perez has one of the most anti-labor, anti-president Congresses—and yet he’s getting this rule done,” Eisenbrey says. “He’s persuaded the White House to push ahead.”

As Perez has steadily risen through the ranks of government, he has effectively shifted the trajectories of the institutions where he’s worked—from Montgomery County Council and the Maryland state government to the Justice Department’s civil-rights division and now the DOL—in a more progressive direction. At each stage, he’s won admirers—from civil-rights and immigrant-rights advocates to labor activists.

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