Watch Al Franken Grill Trump’s New Labor Chief for Promoting Sweatshops

Pizzella claimed he didn’t remember much about his work with Jack Abramoff. But Mother Jones found evidence of heavy involvement.

On Friday, President Donald Trump announced on Twitter that Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta will be replaced on an acting basis by Deputy Secretary of Labor Patrick Pizzella. 

 As Mother Jones reported in 2017, after reviewing hundreds of pages of billing records and emails, Pizzella worked in the late 1990s with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff to promote a sweatshop economy in the Northern Mariana Islands, a US territory.

At Pizzella’s 2017 Senate confirmation hearing to become deputy labor secretary, then-Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) asked Pizzella to explain the work he did to defend garment factories in the Northern Mariana Islands.

Pizzella said he didn’t remember much about that work. That is hard to square with the billing records obtained by Mother Jones, which show that Pizzella sometimes worked on the Northern Mariana Islands account for more than 100 hours per month.

The incoming labor secretary also said that he wasn’t aware of horrible conditions for workers on the islands. The conditions in garment sweatshops, which were compared to indentured servitude, were extensively documented by the press and members of Congress at the time. Franken made clear that the reports of abuse would have been hard to miss by someone who was lobbying against legislation to protect workers in the territory.

Recruiters for garment factories told women from the Philippines and China that they would be going to the United States, Franken said. “They ended up in these jobs in the Northern Mariana Islands,” the former senator continued. “And there were forced abortions, prostitution, and routine beatings.”

“These stories are really sordid,” he said. “And I think for someone who is going to be in your position, I think this is a pretty…shocking history to have been involved in.” 

Twenty-one people were ultimately found guilty in the Abramoff scandal. “I was not one of them,” Pizzella said at the hearing. “I understand that,” Franken replied. “Congratulations.”

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THE BIG QUESTION...

as we head into 2020 is whether politics and media will be a billionaires’ game, or a playing field where the rest of us have a shot.

Please read our annual column about the state of journalism and Mother Jones' plans for the year ahead, and help us build an alternative to oligarchy by supporting our people-powered journalism with a year-end gift today.

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