Federal agencies Leadership

Acosta emphasizes worker safety during nomination hearing

Acosta testimony
Photo: Senate HELP Committee Video

Washington – Secretary of Labor nominee R. Alexander Acosta aimed for a unifying tone during his confirmation hearing in front of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on March 22.

Acosta shared a story about his parents, who fled the dictatorship in Cuba to seek freedom in the United States. His mother became a typist at a real estate firm, sometimes commuting 90 minutes each way to work. His father served in the Army and eventually became an inventory clerk at a cell phone store. The family lived from paycheck to paycheck, and it was not uncommon for his parents to take a second job to make ends meet.

“Today, many Americans are facing the same struggles my parents endured, only worse,” Acosta testified to committee members. “My parents had jobs, but not all Americans have jobs.

“Helping Americans find good jobs, safe jobs, should not be a partisan issue. In my visits with each of you, it was crystal clear that each member of this committee wants to help American workers find good, safe jobs – even if you do not all agree on how best to realize this goal.”

The hearing was an opportunity for senators to engage with Acosta, a former Department of Justice official who currently serves as dean of the law school at Florida International University. President Donald Trump nominated Acosta shortly after his first nominee, Andrew Puzder, withdrew his name from consideration.

“Mr. Acosta is off to a good start in this process because he’s already been confirmed by the Senate three times,” Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) said in reference to Acosta’s work in President George W. Bush’s administration.

However, Acosta did not escape scrutiny. Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) questioned whether Acosta could be an advocate for all workers. She also cited concerns about President Trump’s proposal to slash DOL’s budget.

“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,” Murray said. “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.”

Acosta specifically mentioned worker safety as an important part of his position should he be confirmed.

“Good jobs should also be safe jobs,” he said. “Congress has enacted workplace safety laws. The Department of Labor enforces these, and if confirmed, I will work to enforce the laws under the department’s jurisdiction fully and fairly. As a former prosecutor, I will always be on the side of the law and not any particular constituency.”

At press time, the Senate had not yet scheduled a full vote on Acosta’s nomination.

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