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Acosta facing tough questions at nomination hearing

By Pamela Wolf, J.D.

On March 22, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee began its hearing on the suitability of President Trump’s nominee, Alexander Acosta, to serve as Secretary of Labor. The day before the hearing, Democrats on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce pressed the Senate HELP Committee to find out how Acosta intends to carry out the Labor Department’s mission to “foster, promote and develop the welfare of the wage earners.”

Most commenters expect Acosta to be confirmed. However, that does not me the nominee will not face some tough questioning. On the day of the hearing, Allied Progress released a report supporting the nationwide progressive advocacy organization’s characterization of Acosta’s record as “one of scandal, mismanagement, and a callous disregard for the concerns of American workers.” HELP Committee Chairman Lemar Alexander (R-Tenn.) saw the nominee in a different light, though, saying as he kicked off the hearing, that Acosta understands that “a good-paying job is critical to helping workers realize the American dream for themselves and for their families.”

New environment for workers. “The issue for workers today is not whether they belong to a union,” Alexander said. “It is whether they have the skills to adapt to the changing marketplace and to find and keep a job—to be accurate, to create and keep a job. My generation found jobs. This generation is more likely to have to create their own jobs.”

“We are fortunate today to have a presidential nominee for Labor Secretary who understands how a good-paying job is critical to helping workers realize the American dream for themselves and for their families,” according to Alexander. “After immigrating to Miami from Cuba, Mr. Acosta’s parents worked hard to create more opportunities for their son. Alexander Acosta became the first person in his family to go to college—and from there has had an impressive career. … Mr. Acosta, we welcome you and I look forward to hearing more on your ideas to help create a better environment for more workers in this country.”

Record of government service. Acosta, who is currently Dean of the Florida International University College of Law, is a nominee with a fairly expansive record of government service. He has been confirmed by the Senate three times—to serve as a Member of the National Labor Relations Board, an Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division at the U.S. Department of Justice, and a U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida.

Allied Progress examined Acosta’s record and suggested it “has been marked by scandal and incompetence.” The organization released an extensive profile on the nominee that points to his actions in various roles and the viewpoints he has expressed along the way. On the Labor Board, Acosta routinely sided with businesses, voting to make it easier for employers to fire striking workers or threaten those seeking to unionize, according to Allied Progress.

When Acosta was Assistant Attorney General overseeing the Civil Rights Division, an independent inspector general found that partisanship and ideology had been introduced into hiring and that Acosta failed to take sufficient action when he learned of the information. His mismanagement of the division purportedly prompted the departure of many experienced career civil rights lawyers.

As U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Acosta allegedly went soft on a billionaire in a high-profile sex case involving “underage girls,” Allied Progress said. He also purportedly oversaw “bungled prosecutions” of several individuals who were accused of terrorist activities.

“Acosta is a political activist with deep ties to conservative movement legal organizations,” Allied Progress stressed.

What will Acosta do at the DOL? Democrats on the House Education and the Workforce Committee focused on what the nominee would be doing at the Department of Labor if confirmed.

In a letter to the leaders of the Senate HELP Committee, the Democratic lawmakers said: “During Mr. Acosta’s upcoming confirmation hearing, we urge you to question Mr. Acosta about how he plans to accomplish the DOL’s core functions. In particular, we urge you to ask Mr. Acosta about his views on key issues affecting workers and their families across the country, including enforcement of wage and hour, safety and health, and workplace nondiscrimination laws, the promotion of workforce training, and the administration of benefit programs over which the DOL has jurisdiction. Finally, we urge you to ask Mr. Acosta to explain the steps he will take to ensure that politicized hiring of career employees does not occur on his watch.”

Democrats also pressed the Senate leaders to question the nominee about “the steps he will take to prevent political interference with the career DOL staff’s ability to enforce our workplace protection laws, as well as supply accurate, non-biased information about the state of jobs and the economy.”

Trey Kovacs, a policy analyst at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, where he has “spent the last five years researching the adverse effects of public-sector unions on workplace choice and the economy, worker freedom, private-sector labor relations, and other labor policy reforms,” commented on Acosta’s testimony at the March 22 hearing. Kovacs noted that Acosta stressed two key points in the various questions he received on the overtime rule:

1.

The overtime rule would put a great deal of stress on the economy because of such a large increase to the salary threshold, especially to certain low-wage industries and non-profits.

2.

He is committed to reviewing the lawsuit against the rule and determining whether issuing such a regulation is within the authority of the Labor secretary.

As to questions Acosta fielded addressing the skills gap, Kovacs noted that Acosta had said, “We need to make better efforts to align job training with the skills the market demands of its workers, especially as advancing technology changes the types of jobs available in our economy.”