The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee advanced several of President Trump's nominees for top labor policy positions on Wednesday, allowing the full Senate to consider the picks.
The nominees included the number two person at the Labor Department and the general counsel for the National Labor Relations Board, the main federal labor law enforcement agency, and three members of the National Mediation Board, the federal agency that oversees the transportation industry.
The Trump administration has been engaged in a systematic effort to roll back Obama-era administration workplace policies, such as expanding the number of workers covered by overtime rules. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta has argued that move went too far in aiding organized labor. Confirmation of the picks would enable the current administration to accelerate those rollback efforts.
The nominations included Patrick Pizzella for deputy secretary of labor, Peter Robb to be NLRB general counsel and Gerald Fauth, Kyle Fortson and Linda Puchala to be be members of the mediation board. Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., called them "well-qualified nominees who will serve in important roles that touch the every day lives of Americans." Alexander added that Robb has the opportunity to restore the labor board to the "role of neutral umpire after years of [pro-union] partisanship [that] has created confusion for employers, employees and unions."
The votes for Pizzella and Robb were along party lines, with Democrats criticizing the choices as too close to business. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., was particularly critical of Pizzella, noting he had once worked as a lobbyist for Jack Abramoff, who was convicted in 2006 of attempting to bribe federal officials, among other crimes. Franken argued that Pizzella had fought efforts to end abusive working conditions in the Northern Mariana Islands, an Abramoff client.
"During this time Mr. Abramoff and Mr. Pizzella successfully blocked legislation to implement immigration and minimum wage laws for those workers," Franken said.