What the country learned from Trump's Labor nominee fiasco
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By Wednesday afternoon, the damning record against Labor Secretary nominee Andrew Puzder that played out in public over weeks became too much to bear, and the fast-food mogul was forced to withdraw his nomination.

Puzder’s nomination failed for a host of reasons, among them his lack of respect and appreciation for the low-wage workforce that has made him rich, his demeaning and degrading advertising campaign that objectified women, the record of wage and hour violations, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) violations, and civil rights violations against his restaurants, and his failure to pay taxes for a household employee until right before his nomination was imminent.

After months of scandals and gaffes, he withdrew rather than face further embarrassment from a failed confirmation vote. His defeat was the culmination of a coordinated and strategic campaign waged by more than 200 non-profit organizations, organized labor, and most importantly, thousands and thousands of workers who took to the streets demanding a Labor secretary who puts people ahead of profits.

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Their efforts sent a clear message to the White House: the U.S. Department of Labor matters. The secretary of Labor matters. And a president who ran as a champion of working people cannot successfully impose a Labor secretary who opposes everything the Department of Labor stands for.

 

Less than 24 hours after Puzder’s withdrawal, President Trump announced his nomination of Alexander Acosta, a former member of the National Labor Relations Board and current dean of the Florida International University College of Law, for the Labor post. Acosta lacks many of Puzder’s personal and professional red flags, but he still needs to be thoroughly vetted before getting the “green light.”

The mission of the Department of Labor is to “foster, promote and develop the welfare of the wage earners … improve working conditions … advance opportunities for profitable employment; and assure work-related benefits and rights.” To be true to that mission, any Labor secretary must support policies that promote livable wages, like the fight for $15, and well as overtime for workers who make less than $47,476 per year.

He must champion the types of benefits and social insurance that workers need in order to thrive and balance their work and family obligations, such as paid medical and family leave, and schedules that work. His goal cannot just be the creation of jobs, but the creation of good jobs so that we can build an economy that works for everyone, and not just the wealthy. And he must diligently protect the rights of immigrant workers, workers of color, and women workers.

Unfortunately, President Trump devoted little time to making the case for Acosta at the press conference announcing his nomination. But we can look to some of Acosta’s record of public service during his tenure as an assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department under President George W. Bush.

To his credit, Acosta testified before Congress about protecting the civil rights of Muslim Americans, but we’re concerned about a letter he sent to a federal judge in Ohio that allowed the voting eligibility of close to 23,000 African Americans to be challenged by Republicans in what was seen as an effort to dilute the minority vote during President Bush’s re-election bid.

We know nothing about Acosta’s philosophy on enforcement of the many laws the Labor Department is charged with upholding, including the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act, and the various protections for veterans and federal contract workers.

Clearly, there is much we still need to learn about Acosta, and his confirmation process must include a thorough vetting. America’s workers deserve a Labor secretary who will respect workers of all creeds, colors and credentials—one who will ensure that workers are treated fairly, have the right to form unions and bargain, are fully protected against wage theft and hazardous working conditions, and have real opportunities for upward mobility and financial relief.

If there’s anything to be learned from the withdrawal this week, it’s that any candidate for Labor secretary that falls short of these basic pro-worker principles will be met with the same overwhelming resistance that sent Puzder back to his burger joint.

Christine Owens is executive director of the National Employment Law Project. She previously served as director of public policy at the AFL-CIO.

Rontel Batie is a federal advocate with the National Employment Law Project. He previously served as legislative assistant in the U.S. House of Representatives.


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