Thomas Perez
Thomas Perez

Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez says that an even playing fields for all businesses, assuring safe work environments and guaranteeing opportunities of upward mobility will be the keys to avoiding the destructive “race to the bottom” that could imperil America’s security and economic well-being.

Speaking at Monday’s opening day of the Labor Management Cooperation Initiative (LMCI) Finishing Industries Forum in Las Vegas, Perez specifically derided the controversial practice of “misclassification” of workers by some business owners who intentionally characterize their employees as independent contractors so as to not have to pay them higher wages or pick up the tab for their health insurance.

The odious practice not only shortchanges employees of benefits due to them and the government of added tax revenues, but has also frustrated the many legitimate business owners who do right by their employees only to be left at an economic disadvantage as a result.

“When I think of misclassification, I think of some kind of clerical error,” Perez says of the practice. “I call [misclassification] what it is – workplace fraud, plain and simple – and we need to do something about it. I understand in the tough economic times you have to make tough choices, but you can’t cheat.”

Perez also eschewed the notion that somehow workplace safety and profitability were mutually exclusive, calling it a “false choice” that ignores the reality that it is possible to achieve both with the correct policies.

The secretary went on to challenge the construction community to continue assuring future success by investing in infrastructure, but added each company’s employees will always be the most valuable asset they have. That will entail the continued recruitment of younger, well-trained workers who will be critical for future projects such as the building of LEED-certified buildings that are becoming more prevalent as environmental awareness increases.

Investing in their employees is of the utmost importance, Perez says, and also entails making sure they always have access to bridges of upward mobility. That added inspiration will create happy workers and lead to greater corporate efficiency.

“Our most precious resource is our human capital,” he says.

Perez closed by imploring business owners and their employees to continue putting aside any partisan differences for the sake of the nation in the months ahead, even as hot-button issues such as immigration reform come to the forefront.

“This is not just a matter of national security,” he says. “This is a matter of our economic survival as a country. We have to think long term.”