Prominent Unions Back Acosta for Labor Secretary

Several union leaders that opposed Puzder like Trump's replacement

Alexander Acosta / AP
February 22, 2017

Several major unions have endorsed Alexander Acosta, President Donald Trump's nominee to lead the Department of Labor.

Acosta, the dean of Florida International University's law school, has attracted the support of several major unions that endorsed Hillary Clinton in the general election and vocally opposed Trump's first labor secretary nominee, fast food executive Andy Puzder. Terry O'Sullivan, president of Laborers International Union of North America, signaled his support for Acosta in a press release, hailing the nominee's "long and distinguished career as a public servant."

"Mr. Acosta has an impressive background with strong credentials and an impeccable reputation," he said. "Mr. Acosta's fairness and respect for justice make him highly qualified to serve as the next Secretary of Labor."

Acosta has held three Senate-confirmed federal appointments, including a brief stint on the National Labor Relations Board, the top federal labor arbiter. Other unions praised his work leading the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division under the George W. Bush administration.

International Association of Fire Fighters General President Harold A. Schaitberger said that the group "always found him to be fair, reasonable and accessible" in that role. His term coincided with several prominent federal lawsuits against local fire departments over hiring practices and diversity.

"The IAFF will be supporting Mr. Acosta's nomination and will voice our support to … the full Senate," Schaitberger said in a statement. "His long and distinguished career in law and government service make him a strong candidate to serve as our country's next Labor Secretary."

This is not the first time unions have endorsed Acosta's nomination to serve in the executive branch. The International Union of Operating Engineers backed his 2003 Justice Department nomination, calling him a "reasonable, intelligent and eminently fair individual." The union's general president, James Callahan, told the Washington Examiner that the union's opinion of Acosta had not changed since then.

"Mr. Acosta has proven himself to be a dedicated public servant known to be fair and open minded," Callahan told the Examiner. "Mr. Acosta has proven that he can handle disparate opinions and information in order to make thoughtful decisions on difficult issues. These qualities are essential to lead an agency that is tasked with such things as protecting workers from wage theft to enforcing standards that keep them safe on the job."

Organized labor presented a united front in opposing Trump's initial nominee, CKE Restaurants CEO Andy Puzder. Puzder withdrew from the confirmation process on the eve of his Feb. 15 Senate hearing. Trump named Acosta as the new nominee within 24 hours.

While some unions, including the Service Employees International Union, pledged to continue fighting the Trump nomination, other labor leaders have softened their opposition. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said that Acosta deserved "serious consideration," praising his record as a legal scholar and regulator.

The reception from labor groups does not appear to have dampened Acosta's support in the business community.

The International Franchise Association, which backed Puzder's bid for labor secretary, said that Acosta is receiving the impartial assessment that any nominee is due. Association spokesman Matthew Haller added that union support is not a "cause for concern" because Acosta has demonstrated his preference for enforcing the law, rather than engaging in rule-making outside the bounds of the agency—a common complaint against the Department of Labor under President Obama.

"We don't have any cause for concern and as far as his casework at the Labor Board is concerned, it shows a preference for careful consideration of the facts, which is what has been missing for years at the NLRB and in the Obama DOL," Haller said in an email. "Being pro-union doesn't mean that you are anti-employer. Just like being an employer doesn't mean you are anti-employee."

The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions has not announced the date of Acosta's confirmation hearing.