Floor and Committee Statements

Monday, February 1, 2010 -

Floor Statement on Patricia Smith

Monday, February 1, 2010

U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA)
Floor Statement on Patricia Smith
Remarks as Delivered on the Senate Floor

Mr. President, I reluctantly rise to oppose moving forward with the nomination of Patricia Smith. I do not do so easily nor happily because I believe the President of the United States has the right to make appointments, and I think within reason those appointments should be confirmed. The question before the Senate, with this nomination, is not whether wage and hour laws should be enforced. They should be.

The question is not whether Ms. Smith has done a good job in New York State because Republicans and Democrats said she has. The question is whether the Senate will tolerate a nominee intentionally misleading a standing committee of this body. My guess is the Democratic majority would not have stood for that under the previous administration, and we should not today.

Unfortunately, Ms. Smith has been consistently evasive in response to numerous questions from members of the committee, specifically with regard to a program called Wage Watch, which deputized private activist groups to inspect small businesses to look for and seek to find wage and hour law violations.

For 5 years I have served as the senior Republican on the Employment and Workplace Safety Subcommittee that maintains the oversight responsibilities over the Department of Labor. I am a vigilant, longtime supporter for fair and fully enforced wage-and-hour laws.

The program in question, Wage Watch, is a program that empowered pro-union special interests to enforce the myriad of labor laws that cover small employers. This approach is simply inappropriate. It can at worst be entrapment and at best an improper attempt to enforce the law. One can imagine the outcry if the Minutemen who patrolled on their own on our border to the south had somehow been deputized by our immigration department under the last administration. There would have been outrage, and there should have been.

The Wage Watch program specifically targeted small- and medium-size businesses. In discussing the success of the program, Ms. Smith bragged that one business was closed as a result of this program, telling the New York Times that she had "made the determination that it would be better for workers to lose their jobs than to continue working there."

Ms. Smith stated the program would not be used for union organization; however documents obtained by the HELP Committee from the New York State Labor Department and a union newsletter show plans specifically to use the program for union organizing throughout New York.

Worse than the program itself was Ms. Smith's refusal to provide the committee with accurate and complete information about the program. In April of 2009 I wrote to Ms. Smith to ask if she foresaw "the possibility of instituting similar efforts on a national level." On May 12 she replied in writing that she had "not considered or advocated expanding it across New York to other parts of the country, to the Federal level or to other laws." However, documents procured by the HELP Committee revealed that Ms. Smith wrote in January 2009, 4 months before the letter I just mentioned, that she would like to double the number of organizers involved, "while laying the foundation to expand the program to various parts of Long Island and upstate New York."

She continued: "We're creating a movement here, and the more the merrier."

Clearly she had both considered and advocated expansion of the program, thus her statement to me was inaccurate. Her deceit on this issue forced me to write the President on September 10, 2009, and request that Ms. Smith withdraw her name. I asked the President that a new nominee, one who would both look out for the interests of workers and be honest with the Congress, be nominated.

We now see a similar program like Wage Watch, now called We Can Help, developing in the U.S. Department of Labor. In fact, one of the pro-union special interest groups Ms. Smith deputized to implement her New York program, the so-called National Employment Law Project, has been chosen by Secretary Solis to assist in the enforcement of Federal workplace laws.

On a personal note, I ran a business for 22 years, and it was a small business. I employed golf course superintendent workers, I had independent contractors who were real estate agents, I did a lot of construction where we were subject to the Americans with Disabilities Act. We were subject to all types of labor laws. I vigorously made sure that whatever the case might be, we worked hard to see to it we obeyed not only the letter of the law but the spirit of the law.

But I, too, in my experience, from time to time encountered the kind of organizations Ms. Smith used in ``Wage Watch.'' They tried to entrap me and punish me. I think the proactive enforcement of labor law should be vigilantly looking for violations and vigilantly looking for correction, not vigilantly looking for someone--as in the case of Ms. Smith and the businesses in New York--you can put out of business and cost the jobs of many employees of that small business.

As such, I reluctantly rise today to oppose the nomination of Ms. Patricia Smith.