03.22.17

Murray Questions President Trump’s Nominee for Labor Secretary on Commitment to Put Workers First, Troubling Record at Justice Department

Following failed nomination of Andrew Puzder, today Senate HELP Committee held a hearing on second Trump Labor nominee, Alexander Acosta

 

At the hearing, Acosta faced questions about his troubling record leading the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division

 

Murray cited concerns that Acosta can be an “independent voice for workers”

 

Murray: “Families want a Secretary of Labor who will stand up for the core mission of the Department and fight for their interests”

 

(Washington, D.C.) – Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Ranking Member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, today questioned Alexander Acosta, nominee for Secretary of Labor, about his commitment to prioritize workers and the mission of the Labor Department at a HELP Committee hearing on his nomination. Specifically, Senator Murray asked Acosta about his time leading the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice and cited concerns that he had worked to “actively facilitate” the politicization of this critical division and allowed a redistricting plan that discriminated against black and Latino voters to move forward.

 

Senator Murray pressed Acosta on his position on key issues facing workers today, such as overtime pay and equal pay. In her opening statement, Senator Murray also expressed concerns to Acosta about President Trump’s proposal to cut 20 percent of the Labor Department budget and how that would impact the ability of the Department to operate effectively and support working families.

 

Key excerpts from Senator Patty Murray’s opening statement:

 

“Just because President Trump’s first selection for Secretary of Labor was so deeply unacceptable, that doesn’t mean we should lower our standards, because workers and families across the country certainly are not. Instead, they have made very clear that they want a Secretary of Labor who will stand up for the core mission of the Department and fight for their interests; someone who will be an advocate within this Administration for workers if President Trump continues down the path of breaking promise after promise to those he said he would help.”

 

“The Trump Administration has already cemented a reputation for flouting ethics rules and attempting to exert political pressure over federal employees. So I expect our next Secretary of Labor to be someone who can withstand inappropriate political pressure, and prioritize workers and the mission of the Labor Department over, hypothetically speaking, President Trump’s business associates or Steve Bannon’s frightening ideology.”

 

Unfortunately, Mr. Acosta, our review of your history suggests that when you led the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice, you at best ignored an extraordinary politicization of the work of this critical division—and at worst, actively facilitated it. A formal investigation by the Inspector General showed that under your tenure, hiring in the Civil Rights Division systematically favored conservative applicants over those who appeared to be more liberal, regardless of their professional qualifications.

 

“As Assistant Attorney General, you chose to stay silent on a proposed Texas redistricting plan—instead allowing political appointees to overrule longtime attorneys who believed the plan discriminated against black and Latino voters. The Supreme Court later affirmed the plan did violate the Voting Rights Act. You inexplicably sent a letter defending a Jim-Crow era Ohio voter challenge law, just four days before the 2004 Presidential election, although the Justice Department had no role in the lawsuit.  Altogether, these actions suggest a pattern of allowing political pressure to influence your decision-making on issues that should rise above partisanship.”

 

“I am also very interested in hearing more from you about your vision for the Department, and specifically where you stand on a number of key issues it will be heavily engaged in over the coming years. President Trump has spoken out against the updated overtime rule, which would help millions of workers get pay they have earned. Our federal minimum wage has fallen far, far behind workers’ needs. Women still make less than their male counterparts—an economic drain on our country that is especially pronounced for women of color. And I’ve also heard reports that President Trump’s wrongheaded, cruel immigration executive order is causing undocumented workers not to come forward for back wages and protections they are owed.”

 

Full text from Senator Patty Murray’s opening statement:

 

Thank you, Chairman Alexander.

 

Mr. Acosta, thank you for being here, and thanks to you and your family for your willingness to serve.

 

The Department of Labor is really at the heart of one of President Trump’s core campaign promises: putting workers first.

 

DOL prioritizes the best interests of our workforce, enforces laws that protect workers’ rights, safety, and livelihoods, and seeks to expand economic opportunity to more workers and families across our country.

 

I would hope that any President would share these basic goals—but especially one who has made so many promises about fighting for workers.

 

So I was very surprised when President Trump selected Andrew Puzder, a fast food CEO who built his career on squeezing workers, as his first nominee for Secretary of Labor.

 

We heard story after story from people who worked at his restaurants about lost wages and mistreatment.

 

And I was deeply concerned that as Secretary of Labor, his history of offensive comments and marketing campaigns would signal that it’s acceptable to objectify and marginalize women in the workplace. 

 

Puzder was uniquely unqualified for this role, and I am frankly relieved that he won’t have the opportunity to serve in it.

 

But just because President Trump’s first selection for Secretary of Labor was so deeply unacceptable, that doesn’t mean we should lower our standards, because workers and families across the country certainly are not.

 

Instead, they have made very clear that they want a Secretary of Labor who will stand up for the core mission of the Department and fight for their interests; someone who will be an advocate within this Administration for workers if President Trump continues down the path of breaking promise after promise to those he said he would help.

 

With this in mind, Mr. Acosta, I continue to have serious concerns about your nomination, which I will address today and in written follow-up questions.

 

First—the Trump Administration has already cemented a reputation for flouting ethics rules and attempting to exert political pressure over federal employees.

 

So I expect our next Secretary of Labor to be someone who can withstand inappropriate political pressure, and prioritize workers and the mission of the Labor Department over, hypothetically speaking, President Trump’s business associates or Steve Bannon’s frightening ideology.

 

Unfortunately, Mr. Acosta, our review of your history suggests that when you led the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice, you at best ignored an extraordinary politicization of the work of this critical division—and at worst, actively facilitated it.

 

A formal investigation by the Inspector General showed that under your tenure, hiring in the Civil Rights Division systematically favored conservative applicants over those who appeared to be more liberal, regardless of their professional qualifications.

 

As Assistant Attorney General, you chose to stay silent on a proposed Texas redistricting plan—instead allowing political appointees to overrule longtime attorneys who believed the plan discriminated against black and Latino voters.

 

The Supreme Court later affirmed the plan did violate the Voting Rights Act.

 

You inexplicably sent a letter defending a Jim-Crow era Ohio voter challenge law, just four days before the 2004 Presidential election, although the Justice Department had no role in the lawsuit.  

 

And, by the end of your time at the Civil Rights Division, prosecutions for crimes related to gender and racial discrimination had declined by 40 percent.

 

Altogether, these actions suggest a pattern of allowing political pressure to influence your decision-making on issues that should rise above partisanship.

 

To me, this raises questions about your commitment to defend the civil rights of all workers, which of course is fundamental to the role of Secretary of Labor.

 

Mr. Acosta, I am also very interested in hearing more from you about your vision for the Department, and specifically where you stand on a number of key issues it will be heavily engaged in over the coming years.

 

President Trump has spoken out against the updated overtime rule, which would help millions of workers get pay they have earned.

 

Our federal minimum wage has fallen far, far behind workers’ needs. Women still make less than their male counterparts—an economic drain on our country that is especially pronounced for women of color.

 

And I’ve also heard reports that President Trump’s wrongheaded, cruel immigration executive order is causing undocumented workers not to come forward for back wages and protections they are owed.  

 

I feel strongly that we need to ensure undocumented workers are safe and receive fair treatment—especially in this time of heightened fear and uncertainty.

 

These are all challenges that I expect the Secretary of Labor to be committed to working on, and I will be very interested in your thinking and plans on each, because again, the Secretary must be an independent voice for workers who will push back on the President’s agenda to hurt working families.

 

DOL also plays a pivotal role in making certain that there are consequences when companies discriminate or threaten employees’ safety on the job.

 

It supports job training and the development of new career pathways for unemployed workers; oversees the quality of retirement programs impacting millions of workers nationwide; collects and publishes independent, foundational data about our economy and workforce through the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and much more.

 

In other words—the ability of this Department to operate effectively has enormous impact on workers, families and our economy.

 

So I am very concerned about President Trump’s proposal to cut 20 percent of the DOL budget. It is difficult to see how the Department could maintain—let alone improve—its performance were such dramatic cuts to go into effect.

 

Under the President’s budget, workers would pay the price for a budget designed to help those at the top—which is unacceptable.

 

So I will want to hear how you, as someone who would be responsible for carrying out the critical work of this Department, view the President’s proposal.

 

Mr. Acosta, I’m looking forward to your testimony and responses on these and many other issues.

 

I hope we will receive clear and thorough answers. I firmly believe that workers should have a strong advocate at the Department of Labor and that is what I will continue pushing for.

 

Thank you.

 

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