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Senate Republicans attack Biden's labor secretary pick over meetings with unions

During her confirmation hearing, Republicans attacked Julie Su for implementing a pro-worker law when she was California labor secretary.

By Josh Israel - April 21, 2023
Julie Su, nominee to serve as Secretary of Labor, arrives for her confirmation hearing in the Senate Health Education Labor & Pensions Committee on Thursday, April 20, 2023.
WASHINGTON - APRIL 20: Julie Su, nominee to serve as Secretary of Labor, arrives for her confirmation hearing in the Senate Health Education Labor & Pensions Committee on Thursday, April 20, 2023. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

During a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee confirmation hearing on Thursday, Republicans on the committee attacked Julie Su, President Joe Biden’s nominee for secretary of labor, for having met with labor unions.

Su, a former California labor secretary who joined the U.S. Department of Labor as a deputy secretary in 2021, has been serving as acting secretary since Marty Walsh stepped down in March. When announcing her selection on Feb. 28, Biden said, “Julie has spent her life fighting to make sure that everyone has a fair shot, that no community is overlooked, and that no worker is left behind.”

The Department of Labor’s mission is to improve labor conditions, protect rights and benefits, and expand opportunities for American workers, job seekers, and retirees.

Republican lawmakers and some of their corporate allies oppose Su, objecting to her previous work implementing a California law aimed at protecting gig workers, freelancers, and independent contractors from unfair labor practices. They have also accused her of being biased against business interests.

At the hearing, Utah Republican Sen. Mitt Romney suggested that Su could not be an impartial broker in the job because she had met with labor unions more frequently than business associations during her time as deputy secretary:

During your last two years at the department, the public calendar shows that you had a standing meeting with unions on a regular basis. But until six weeks ago, you’d not met with any business associations. Unions on a regular basis, but not with business associations. I guess it’s really hard to understand how, when we think about putting two groups together, and getting into the compromise and negotiating, how we can have any confidence that you’d be seen as an unbiased, neutral arbiter, but instead will be biased in such a way that business associations are not going to be able to trust the Department of Labor to play a meaningful role.

Oklahoma Republican Sen. Markwayne Mullin said Su is unqualified for the job because she has never run a business: “You seem like a super nice individual and we had a great conversation. That doesn’t mean being nice qualifies you to be secretary of labor, because if you don’t have that basic understanding of knowing what it’s like, then how can you relate and truly represent both sides?”

Pennsylvania Democratic Sen. Bob Casey said that the Labor Department’s mission has been the same under both Democratic and Republican administrations, and he took aim at Romney’s argument:

It’s not the Department of Corporations, it’s not the Department of Employers and Employees and all the talk you heard here today. It’s the Department of Labor. I want a Department of Labor that is fighting every day for workers, not as some have characterized it. It’s a department that has to administer some 180 federal laws for 150 million workers and 10 million workplaces. There’s a lot of work to do to protect workers. If corporations were doing their job, we wouldn’t need a Department of Labor, but you need one in the United States of America.

In response to questioning from Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), Su clarified that she has repeatedly met with businesses. Kaine noted that she has received high praise from many business groups, including the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce and the Society for Human Resources Management.

Labor groups have also strongly backed Su’s nomination. In a Feb. 28 press release, AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler said: “Simply put: There’s no one more dedicated and qualified to defend the fundamental rights of working people than Julie Su. It’s her life’s work. The AFL-CIO is thrilled with her historic nomination to become our nation’s next secretary of labor.”

A group called Stand Against Su, which says on its website that it is a “coalition of small businesses, freelancers, tipped workers, and franchisees,” has paid for billboards opposing her nomination in Arizona, Montana, and West Virginia. Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (I), Jon Tester (D), and Joe Manchin (D), who represent those states, could face competitive reelection races in 2024.

The group claims on its website that Su is anti-worker and would be an “anti-labor labor secretary,” charging: “Thousands of workers have already suffered thanks to Su’s anti-business agenda. First as Secretary of the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency, and currently as the US Deputy Secretary of Labor, Su has sought to restrict, regulate, and eliminate worker independence at every opportunity.”

A spokesperson for the group did not respond to questions from The American Independent Foundation about its funding.

The committee is scheduled to reconvene on April 26 to vote on the nomination.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

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