Senators Should Oppose Biden Nominee Julie Su for Labor Secretary

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Earlier this year, President Biden nominated Julie Su to serve as Secretary of Labor. Given Su’s track record as an aggressive enforcer and inept manager in California, the U.S. Senate should reject her nomination.

Statement by Sean Higgins, CEI research fellow:

President Biden’s decision to nominate Julie Su to be secretary of Department of Labor should be rejected by the U.S.  Senate. Su has a disastrous track record as a public official, no practical experience in the private sector, and has frequently espoused radical views and positions. Any one factor would make her a questionable choice to hold a cabinet position. Taken together, they render her unfit for the role.

Su’s background as civil rights attorney is laudable but not relevant to the task of running a large bureaucracy. Su lacks any private sector experience on either the management or labor side. Departing labor secretary Marty Walsh was a former labor leader whose sympathies leaned towards unions, but he was at least familiar with the process of sitting down opposite management and hammering out a contract. Su led California’s Division of Labor Standards Enforcement and its Labor and Workforce Development Agency prior to becoming the Golden State’s labor secretary. In short, Su leapt immediately from an advocacy role to an enforcement role with no private sector work experience for either side.

An internal study found that under her stewardship the state labor department had awarded nearly $11 billion in fraudulent unemployment claims during the Covid pandemic. Subsequent investigations have since put the fraudulent amount paid out at upwards of $33 billion. ’There is no sugarcoating the reality,’ Su publicly conceded. ‘California did not have enough security measures in place.’ At the same time more than a million legitimate recipients of unemployment claims had their  funds delayed or denied. Her record as a California public official was by any metric catastrophic.

Su’s apparent focus during this period was to make the department a more aggressive enforcement agency. She went so far as arm its investigators, creating a Criminal Investigation Unit that was, in her own words, “basically cops.” In a 2015 lecture Su boasted, ’When we first implemented the unit, newspaper headlines warned of armed Labor Commissioner deputies coming to get employers in California and arrest them for crimes. And, well, we are!’ A small business owner struggling to navigate the changing rules implemented by this administration should not have to worry whether an honest mistake will result in them being dragged off in handcuffs. Under Su, that would be a plausible fear.

She was also a supporter of the state’s disastrous AB5 law, which was intended to force rideshare companies and other so-called gig economy businesses to treat their workers as regular employees rather than short-term workers. Su tweeted in 2019 that the law was ’about preserving labor standards that are key to quality jobs in California.’ There was little evidence the law was wanted by or beneficial to rideshare drivers. In practice, the law disrupted the lives of all manner of workers involved in traditional freelancing professions. It created a popular backlash that forced the Sacramento legislature to amend the law to exclude a wide swath of professions. Even then, voters passed Prop. 22 gutting the main provision of the law.

DOL is now in the process of promulgating a new rule redefining employer-employee relationships that would effectively create a nationwide version of AB5. Su would be in the unique position of being able to make the same mistakes twice but on a much larger scale.

The bottom line is that the current administration can do far better than its current nominee to run the Labor Department. We urge the Senate to reject this nominee and encourage the administration to pick someone more qualified.