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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We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

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