Franken: Trump nominee for DOL’s #2 job lobbied for government that let firms exploit workers

WASHINGTON—Patrick Pizzella, GOP President Donald Trump’s nominee for Deputy Secretary of Labor – the department’s #2 job – lobbied more than a decade ago for the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands government that let employers cruelly exploit workers while still allowing the companies to label their products “Made in the USA.”

Franken raised the issue at the July 13 Senate Labor confirmation hearing for Pizzella to be deputy secretary. As deputy secretary, Pizzella, 63, would oversee the department’s day-to-day operations, its 15,000 workers and the 180 laws they administer.

Pizzella now chairs the Federal Labor Relations Authority board, which rules on labor-management disputes within the federal government itself. Between federal stints under GOP presidents, he worked in the huge firm of crooked lobbyist Jack Abramoff. A Wikipedia entry adds Pizzella’s first private non-politics job was for the National Right to Work Committee.

The Commonwealth government was a big Abramoff client. The commonwealth is associated with the U.S. and its firms can label their goods – mostly clothes — “Made in the USA” and ship them here duty-free. The CNMI government hired Abramoff’s firm, starting in 1993, for $6.7 million, to lobby against extending U.S. labor laws to the islands.

Investigations by ABC News, the New York Times and Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., showed rampant exploitation of workers, subminimum wages, and slave-like conditions – along with prostitution — imposed on imported woman workers, among other abuses.

CNMI hired the Abramoff firm to lobby against legislation by moderate then-Sen. Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska, to clean up the mess. Murkowski would also have imposed the U.S. minimum wage on the commonwealth, where workers earned far, far less.

Pizzella’s prepared statement contained only his government service and didn’t mention Abramoff or the RTW committee. Franken said – and later put into the hearing record – the official Senate lobbying registration statement saying Abramoff’s firm lobbied for CNMI against Murkowski’s bill. Pizzella, Franken noted, signed it as that issue’s lobbyist. Pizzella denied it.

“One key issue you lobbied on was to block legislation where firms” operating in the Marianas “could label their goods ‘Made in the USA,’ despite the horrible conditions,” Franken told Pizzella. “I was not aware and did not know of the situation,” Pizzella replied.

After citing the other probes, Franken noted even Democratic President Bill Clinton said in 1997 that “working conditions” in the Marianas were “inconsistent with” U.S. values. Mur-kowski introduced his cleanup bill in 1998. The lobbying registration was in September 2000.

Pizzella stuck to his script. “What you mentioned were allegations,” he said, before admitting he lobbied against raising the minimum wage in the Marianas. “These stories are really sordid and this is a pretty shocking history to be involved in,” Franken replied. “It was hard to miss, and especially hard to miss if you were lobbying against Murkowski’s bill.”

Source: PAI