Let's Meet The Trump Administration's New Acting Secretary Of (Sweatshop) Labor, Peter Pizzella!
Yesterday, Labor Secretary Alex Acosta stepped down, in light of his rather scandalous involvement with billionaire pedophile Jeffrey Epstein's slap on the wrist the last time he was in trouble for child sex trafficking. You might be thinking to yourself "Self, there is no way that the next Labor Secretary could be as gross as that!"
AND YET. The new acting Secretary of Labor is probably even worse.
The entire purpose of the United States Department of Labor is to be ensure that our American companies meet our American labor standards, to protect workers, to make sure they are safe and that they are paid correctly, that they get unemployment insurance and overtime and everything else they are due.
Thus, it is ironic that Patrick Pizzella (not to be confused with pizzelle, which are delicious waffle-like cookies), the new acting Secretary of Labor, is a man whose job it once was to cover up bad labor practices and human rights abuses in sweatshops in the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands.
Here's the quick and dirty! Patrick Pizzella worked for former lobbyist and convicted felon in the late 1990s, and the CNMI was one of Abramoff's clients. For several years prior to that, the CNMI, which was made a commonwealth of the United States after WWII but was not subject to our labor laws or federal minimum wage, had been under some major scrutiny for all the sweatshops and sex trafficking going on there at the time. A bill requiring them to be subject to these laws, written by Republican Frank Murkowski when he was still an Alaskan senator, passed the Senate.
In order to keep such a bill from going forward, Patrick Pizzella led an effort to bring Republican officials like Tom DeLay to the islands to give them lovely all-expenses paid trips in hopes of encouraging them to oppose these measures. It worked. DeLay blocked the bills in the House and called the Mariana Islands a "perfect petri dish of capitalism." He was also caught on camera assuring notorious sweatshop tycoon Willie Tan that he would use his position in Congress to ensure that no law regulating labor practices in the CNMI would ever even make it to a vote.
Via Mother Jones:
In a 1995 pitch letter to Tenorio, Abramoff argued that personal tours could help sway public officials. Pizzella led this effort. By his second month on the job, Pizzella was spending more than 100 billable hours per month on the CNMI account, about as much as Abramoff. The centerpiece of Pizzella's work was organizing all-inclusive junkets for members of Congress and their wives, congressional staffers, and conservative influencers such as pollster Kellyanne Fitzpatrick—who now goes by her married name, Kellyanne Conway, and advises President Donald Trump—with first-class airfare and lodging at the beachfront Hyatt Regency on Saipan. "Pat's very effective," a former consultant to the CNMI told The New Republic in 2001. "Visitors to the island seemed to get all the right information."
So basically what happened is that these politicians and influencers were given free island resort vacations in exchange for going back the the US and talking about how everything on the Mariana Islands was JUST FINE.
One of the most galling aspects of this whole deal was that, because the Mariana Islands were a Commonwealth of the United States, the clothes made in these sweatshops were labeled "Made In The USA." That label was not just about patriotism or supporting American workers, it was an assurance that the product someone was buying was made by people who were being paid fairly and treated fairly. This was not the case in Saipan. Although the minimum wage in the United States was $4.25 ($7.53 in today's dollars) an hour at the time, the minimum wage on the Mariana Islands was only $2.15 ($3.81 today) — although Labor Department investigators found instances where people were making as little as $1.65 ($2.92) an hour.
The low wages weren't the only issues, either. Workers were forced to sleep a dozen to a room, there were beatings, there were forced abortions, there was forced prostitution. Things were very, very, very bad. And because of Pizzella and Abramoff, they stayed bad.
Part of Pizzella's defense has been that he simply had no idea about the terrible conditions faced by workers on these islands when he started doing this work in 1996. He "explained" this to then Sen. Al Franken during his 2017 confirmation hearing:
Trump's New Labor Secretary Grilled for Promoting Sweatshops with Jack Abramoff www.youtube.com
Not only can I assure you that people knew about these conditions and issues, being that I was alive at that time and remember it being a whole thing, but the New York Times article I got all of that information from was published in 1993. There would have also been no need for any of the things that Pizzella did were these not issues. If he didn't know, there is absolutely no way that he is not too oblivious to be the Secretary of Anything.
Of course, given that Trump has appointed climate change denier Scott Pruitt to head the EPA and Betsy DeVos, a woman who hates public schools, to head the Department of Education, appointing someone who hates labor rights and labor unions to head the Labor Department does seem to fit with his M.O..
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse