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Biden taps Su to lead Labor Department

Su would replace Marty Walsh, who is leaving to head professional hockey players union

Julie Su testifies during her Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee confirmation hearing to be deputy secretary of Labor on March 16, 2021.
Julie Su testifies during her Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee confirmation hearing to be deputy secretary of Labor on March 16, 2021. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

President Joe Biden said Tuesday that he would nominate Julie Su, the deputy secretary of Labor and the preferred choice of the Congressional Black Caucus, to become Labor secretary.

Su would replace Marty Walsh, who is leaving in March to become executive director of the National Hockey League Players’ Association.

“Julie is a tested and experienced leader, who will continue to build a stronger, more resilient, and more inclusive economy that provides Americans a fair return for their work and an equal chance to get ahead,” Biden said in a statement. “Over several decades, Julie has led the largest state labor department in the nation, cracked down on wage theft, fought to protect trafficked workers, increased the minimum wage, created good-paying, high-quality jobs, and established and enforced workplace safety standards.”

If confirmed by the Senate, Su would take over the department amid a very strong market but with economic forces suggesting that it could weaken. The Federal Reserve has been steadily raising interest rates since early 2022 as it seeks to slow the rate of inflation. Those rate hikes have thus far had little effect on employment, but many economists expect that to change.

She is likely to face questioning about the department’s environment, social and governance rule that allows managers of pension funds to consider ESG factors in investment decisions. Congressional Republicans have criticized the rule, and the House is scheduled to vote Tuesday on a measure that would disapprove of the rule.

Rep. Kevin Kiley, R-Calif., gave an early indication of Republicans’ opposition on the House floor Monday, criticizing Su’s tenure as California’s labor commissioner starting in 2011. 

“To say she failed the people of California in that role would be an extreme understatement,” Kiley said. “I was serving in the state assembly during her tenure. I witnessed firsthand failures on a scale that no state in this country has ever experienced.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, praised the choice. “I look forward to working with her to protect workers’ rights and build the trade union movement in this country,” he said in a statement.

Walsh also praised Su in his departure note to the Labor Department staff in mid-February.

“Julie is an incredible leader and has been central to our success as a team and as a Department. With the kind of leadership and talent assembled across the Department, I am confident there will be continuity and the work will be sustained,” he said.

The CBC, in a statement in February, said: “Since Deputy Secretary Su’s appointment at the Department of Labor, she has been a trusted partner of the CBC and advocate for underserved communities. President Biden pledged to have the most diverse cabinet in U.S. history, and today, the CBC urges the Biden-Harris Administration to appoint Deputy Secretary Su as the Secretary of Labor, becoming the first Asian American Cabinet Secretary in the Administration’s cabinet.”

Su became deputy secretary of Labor in July 2021 after being confirmed on a party-line, 50-47 vote in the Senate.

Her work in government began as California labor commissioner in 2011. She previously spent 17 years as a civil rights attorney representing workers who the White House said are often invisible, including Thai garment workers trafficked to the United States. She received a MacArthur fellowship in 2001 for that work.

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