The Higher Ed Workplace Blog

Senate Confirms Alexander Acosta as Labor Secretary

On April 27, the U.S. Senate confirmed Alexander Acosta as the 27th labor secretary. Acosta, who most recently served as dean of Florida International University College of Law, previously held positions in the federal government 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 Senate’s vote to confirm Secretary Acosta comes a little over two months after President Trump nominated him following the withdrawal of the president’s first labor secretary nominee, Andrew Puzder. While Puzder, an outspoken free market advocate, drew swift and staunch opposition from unions, Acosta, who has a strong public service record, was met with praise from unions and 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 to the vest on labor policy and the Department of Labor (DOL)’s high-priority issues, such as the fate of the overtime rule. During his confirmation hearing, Acosta fielded questions from both sides of the aisle with regard to his positions on pending DOL regulations issued by President Obama’s administration, enforcement priorities and the skills gap.

On the issue and fate of the overtime rule, Acosta indicated a middle ground, saying, “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.”

Now that Acosta has been confirmed, it is likely that we will begin to see clarity as to the future policy of DOL and more immediately whether DOL will continue to defend the overtime rule in court. We expect Acosta will make decisions on how to proceed with the overtime rule rather quickly. However, long-term policy goals will not be mapped out clearly until the nominations of sub-secretaries and agency heads within DOL are announced and eventually confirmed. With the secretary in place, the process to begin filling these posts should begin in the new few weeks.