Secretive Su: Biden Admin Won’t Release Records of ‘Transparent’ Labor Secretary Nominee Julie Su

Acting Labor Secretary Julie Su (Photo by Roy Rochlin/Getty Images for One Fair Wage)
May 1, 2023

The Biden administration is stonewalling public records requests regarding acting labor secretary Julie Su, whose confirmation to lead the agency on a permanent basis faces an uphill battle in the closely divided Senate.

Conservative watchdog group American Accountability Foundation last month petitioned the Labor Department for all official correspondence between Su and the nation’s most powerful unions, whose business dominates her public calendars. Last week, the agency blew by its deadline to provide the documents as Su moved toward a confirmation vote in the U.S. Senate.

The watchdog said the administration's failure to provide documents from Su's time at the Labor Department ahead of a potential vote "thickens the cloud already hanging over this confirmation process."

"The American people and members of the Senate who are considering her confirmation right now deserve to know the full truth about Julie Su and it is disgraceful that they are being kept in the dark," the group said in a statement. "The fact that the acting head of the Department of Labor right now is Julie Su herself only thickens the cloud already hanging over this confirmation process."

The Labor Department’s lack of timely transparency cuts against Su’s own defense of her record. Under questioning from Sen. Mitt Romney (R., Utah) in a confirmation hearing last month, Su described herself as "someone who is communicative, transparent, and really sees that there is tremendous areas of common ground between employers who are job creators and employees who do the work." Her nomination made it through committee on Wednesday and set up a full Senate vote. She must win over a number of Democratic moderates who have had second thoughts after supporting her 2021 confirmation as deputy labor secretary.

The Labor Department did not respond to a request for comment.

Su’s public calendars, on which American Accountability Foundation based its information requests, suggest that she has maintained the kinds of close ties to unions that she cultivated during her rise in California’s Democratic politics, where public employee unions hold massive sway.

According to the calendars, Su has a quarterly check-in with Neal Bisno, the president of the SEIU. She also joined a May 12, 2022 SEIU "wage theft" event in support of a controversial bill then moving through the California legislature to hand power over fast food wages and benefits to a special state council. California Democrats passed the bill, AB 257, but a judge has temporarily put the measure on hold in response to a lawsuit.

Meanwhile, Su notably had zero meetings with business leaders as deputy labor secretary. It was Romney noting this fact last month that prompted Su to tout her "transparency."

Su’s calendars also showcase her commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. For example, she participated in a meeting about "equity in procurement"—to ensure that government contracts go to business owners who are not white or straight—and a panel about incorporating gender and race into workplace safety.

Su was an early supporter of critical race theory, an academic idea that Western society is inherently racist. In a recently unearthed essay, she and a co-author decried the notions of "colorblindness" and "individuality." They called for political lawyers and race scholars to work together for progressive social justice and claimed that "Critical Race Theory and its related schools have provided a framework for diverse alliances to combat the anti-affirmative-action assault … and to stem racial and gender violence."

Last April, per her calendars, Su met with Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, the former California lawmaker who now leads one of the state’s most powerful unions. Gonzalez Fletcher authored California’s controversial "gig worker" law, AB 5, which was meant to improve work conditions for independent contractors but led to job losses and pay cuts for many of them. Unions have pressed Democrats to federalize the law, and Biden promised to use it as a national model in an endorsement he has since scrubbed from his campaign website.