Labor Giants Split on Labor Nominee

Trumka says Acosta deserves 'serious consideration'; SEIU pledges to 'stay in the streets'

Alexander Acosta
Alexander Acosta / AP

Unions and labor activists are split on how to treat new labor secretary nominee Alexander Acosta.

President Donald Trump announced Acosta's nomination at the start of his hour-long press conference on Thursday, a day after CKE Restaurants CEO Andy Puzder withdrew from consideration after uncertainty among at least six Republican senators imperiled his confirmation.

Puzder, who would have been the first career businessman to lead the Department of Labor since 1985, faced intense scrutiny of both his public and private life for his opposition to minimum wage hikes, support for immigration reform, his business's ad campaigns, and a past domestic abuse allegation.

Unions and labor groups are now debating whether they should wage an equally aggressive campaign against Acosta, a law school university dean who has been confirmed to three previous appointments including a brief stint at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the top federal labor arbiter that oversees union elections and handles workplace disputes.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said that the union intends to closely follow the nomination and explore Acosta's record. He did, however, compare Acosta's nomination favorably to that of Puzder, saying that senators should give him "serious consideration" and hailing him as a "public servant."

"Unlike Andy Puzder, Alexander Acosta’s nomination deserves serious consideration," Trumka said in a statement. "In one day, we’ve gone from a fast-food CEO who routinely violates labor law to a public servant with experience enforcing it."

As the head of the nation's largest labor organization, as well as one of the Democratic Party's biggest campaign donors, Trumka carries considerable influence among elected officials and other labor leaders.

Not all unions are treating Acosta's arrival as a welcome development.

Public sector and healthcare union giant Service Employees International Union filed more than 30 unfair labor practice complaints at CKE Restaurants Hardee's and Carl's Jr. in the wake of Puzder's nomination—complaints that the company denied, but were cited by Democratic senators as disqualifying to a labor nominee. Acosta is not as vulnerable to such a line of attack given his academic and public sector record, but SEIU President Mary Kay Henry vowed that the union plans to "stay in the streets" to replicate the successful anti-Puzder campaign.

"Working people stood together and proved with Andy Puzder’s withdrawal as labor secretary nominee that when we join together we can fight back," Henry said in a release. "Together, workers will stay in the streets to demand a Labor secretary who is a champion for working people and fights to represent their interests in our economy. … We will hold Mr. Acosta to the same high standards the American public rightfully expects of our nation’s Labor secretary."

The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) has yet to announce a date of Acosta's confirmation hearing. Acosta needs to obtain a majority of votes in order to obtain his appointment in the Republican-controlled Senate.