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AFL-CIO Pushes Senate to Approve DOL Leaders

Attacks are mounting against Julie Su, while Marty Walsh awaits a confirmation vote

Brian Young's picture
Mar 16, 2021

For nearly three months, the Department of Labor has been rudderless with just acting staff in charge. The department is one of the last two to not have their Secretary confirmed by the Senate.

With such an important Department leaderless at a time when millions are unemployed, the AFL-CIO is ramping up pressure on Senators to push the vote through for nominees Marty Walsh and Julie Su. In an email sent to supporters on Tuesday, they asked for union members' help in pushing Senators to vote yes on the "Dream Team." They noted that Walsh would be the first union leader to lead the department in over four decades and that it is essential to show that there is significant support behind both Walsh and Su, who is also awaiting confirmation from the Senate. According to the Boston Herald, a vote on Walsh’s nomination is not expected until at least next week.

While Walsh is expected to eventually get approved by the full Senate, Republicans are attempting to make Su’s nomination toxic. Conservatives and business groups are launching a grassroots advocacy blitz urging lawmakers to reject her nomination. They are pointing to her work as California Labor Secretary where billions of dollars was fraudulently claimed from unemployment during the pandemic. The effort to stop Su’s appointment is being led by the California Business and Industrial Alliance (CABIA).

The ad was produced by Berman and Company, which is an anti-union public relations firm that has done work for Union Facts, a campaign against a $15 minimum wage, and a campaign against the Humane Society. “Su made a mess of California,” the spot warns, after showing a montage of local news clips about the state’s problematic processing of jobless benefits claims. “Now, she could import California’s failed policies to Washington, D.C.”

One Republican aide to the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee told Bloomberg that some of the committee’s Republican members are “fired up” over her nomination and will try to make her out to seem unfit to serve. In a separate campaign against Su, conservative super-pac America Rising is also planning to launch an attack on her. Chris Martin, America Rising’s deputy executive director, told Bloomberg that Su is at the top of the list of Biden nominees that they will be going after.

In response to these attacks the AFL-CIO has come to Su’s defense calling the attacks “Ugly and Baseless.”

“The attacks on Julie Su, as well as those doing the attacking, speak volumes about the people and institutions desperate to preserve the economic status quo,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. “As labor secretary of California, the world’s fifth-largest economy, Su enacted a sweeping pro-worker agenda that is a progressive model for all of America. As a child of immigrant parents and a longtime advocate for low-wage working people, Su truly understands the toll this pandemic continues to take on us, especially women and people of color. When then-President Donald Trump scrapped workplace safety protections and refused to consider reinstating regulations to save lives last year during this pandemic, Su successfully led the charge to implement an emergency temporary standard, which will soon be enacted nationally. From her work to prevent wage theft to her record of holding Big Tech accountable, Su has shown us she is ready to meet this moment and fight for working people across the nation. The Senate should quickly confirm her to serve alongside Marty Walsh as one of the most pro-worker Department of Labor leadership teams in American history.”

Other progressive groups are also getting behind Su. The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights has spearheaded a letter to Senators from 51 civil and workplace-rights groups and unions praising Su’s accomplishments on wage enforcement and pay equity. With the Senate evenly divided at 50-50, Su can not afford to lose any Democratic Senator’s votes.

Su had her first hearing before the HELP Committee on Tuesday. The hearing was dominated by Republicans attacking her record, including “centrist” Susan Collins who attacked Su for her handling of unemployment insurance fraud. However, Su held her own touting her work with vulnerable, immigrant workers and defended steps she took to respond to the unprecedented surge in unemployment claims last year. She also rarely backed down from Republican attacks, laying out detailed explanations of what went wrong and what she would aim to fix at the federal level to prevent future issues.

“As we’ve seen during the pandemic, too many workers have to choose between their safety and their livelihoods. At the same time, I learned that working people, when given a chance to organize, to be heard, not only make things better for themselves but bring the hope of such opportunity to those around them,” Su said in her opening statement Tuesday. “If confirmed, I will bring these lessons and experiences to my role as we collectively continue to navigate these trying times.”

The Departments of Labor and the Health and Human Services are the last two Cabinet-level positions without a Senate-approved Secretary.

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