The Higher Ed Workplace Blog

Labor Secretary Nominee Alex Acosta Wins Committee Approval

On March 30, the Senate committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) favorably reported out the nomination of President Trump’s choice for secretary of labor, Alexander Acosta. Approved in a 12-11 vote along party lines, Acosta’s nomination now advances to the full Senate for consideration.

The Committee’s vote comes a month and a half after President Trump nominated Acosta to serve as secretary. Acosta is currently dean of Florida International University College of Law and previously served as a U.S. attorney, head of the Department of Justice’s civil rights division and, for a short time, as a member of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

The president’s first nominee for secretary of labor, Andy Puzder, withdrew on February 15 as it became clear he did not have the votes in the Senate to be confirmed. Puzder is an outspoken free market advocate whose opinion pieces on issues such as the Affordable Care Act, overtime and the minimum wage drew swift and staunch opposition from unions. Acosta, who has a strong public service record, was met with praise from unions and received a glowing statement from Wilma Liebman, a former Democratic NLRB member who served with Acosta on the Board.

Primarily known as a jurist, Acosta has kept his views close when it comes to labor policy and the Department of Labor (DOL)’s high-priority issues such as the fate of the overtime rule. Appropriately introduced by Sen. Ted Cruz as a great poker player at his recent confirmation hearing, Acosta fielded questions from both sides of the aisle with regards to his positions on pending DOL regulations issued by President Obama’s administration, enforcement priorities and the skills gap.

Answering mostly in general terms without providing any specifics of what he will do as secretary, Acosta said, “Whether it is those who are working, those who still seek work, those who are discouraged or underemployed, or those who have retired, if confirmed as the secretary of labor, part of my job will be to be one of those advocates.”

On the issue and fate of the overtime rule, Acosta indicated a middle ground, saying that, “I understand the extreme economic impact that a doubling has in certain parts of the economy,” but that “it’s unfortunate that rules involving dollar values can go more than a decade without adjusting [as] life does get more expensive.” When asked if he would enforce labor regulations, Acosta responded that, “As a former prosecutor, I will always be on the side of the law and not any particular constituency.”

As Acosta has widespread support from both businesses and unions as well as the support of at least one Democratic senator, we expect he will be confirmed. The only question that remains is whether the Senate calendar will allow for a full vote before Congress breaks for recess on April 7.