Obama Nominee to head DOL Wage-And-Hour Division Emphasizes Strategic Enforcement

WASHINGTON —The Obama administration’s nominee to head the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division – the DOL agency that enforces minimum wage, overtime pay and other pay laws – will use “strategic enforcement” to communicate the message that all employers should obey labor laws, especially wage and hour laws.

And that doesn’t mean, Harvard professor David Weil told the Senate Labor Committee, that he would use the division to push unionization.  Instead, he said, workers and employers who become more aware of worker rights to proper pay could also become aware of other worker rights, too.

Weil’s comments about unions responded to Labor Committee Republicans’ questions at a Dec. 10 hearing on his nomination.  The committee confirmed his nomination on Dec. 18.  The division is important to workers: Its 1,800 employees police some 9 million workplaces nationwide.

“Strategic enforcement is so important because it gets back to the fact that we have limited resources, so we’re setting priorities and understanding the forces that give rise to these (wage and hour) problems,” Weil added.

But he also said the department is working with outdated information.  For example, the last nationwide survey of misclassification of workers as “independent contractors” was by the IRS, 20 years ago.  IRS and DOL plan a new survey, he said.

The Republicans worried that Weil would use the Wage and Hour post to promote unions, advocate for labor law revision, and crack down on chains whose franchisees might break the law.  Weil responded he would not single out the chains, but would not ignore them, either.  And labor law analysis is part of his “advocacy” as a management school professor, Weil said.