Bannon-Tied Labor Diplomat Gets Early Flight Home From G-20

From labor disputes cases to labor and employment publications, for your research, you’ll find solutions on Bloomberg Law®. Protect your clients by developing strategies based on Litigation...

By Ben Penn

Curtis Ellis, the controversial Labor Department international adviser, exited prematurely from the G-20 meetings in Germany May 18, just as Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta arrived, sources familiar with the plans told Bloomberg BNA.

Ellis, a staunch critic of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal who once wrote that Democrats were conspiring to “ethnically cleanse” America of its white working class, was scheduled to represent the U.S. government with Acosta at the G-20 ministerial meetings this week, a DOL spokeswoman told Bloomberg BNA May 16.

Ellis was in Germany in advance of Acosta’s arrival for the May 18-19 meetings with foreign labor and employment ministers. The status of Ellis’ job as a “special assistant to the secretary"—a temporary political appointment—and his candidacy for a permanent agency position is not known.

News of Ellis’ early departure comes after Bloomberg BNA reported May 15 that he was a finalist to head the department’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs. Bloomberg BNA reported May 16 on Ellis’ 2014 tweet calling Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) “China’s bitch” and criticizing the senator’s wife, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.

Ellis didn’t respond to a May 18 email and voicemail from Bloomberg BNA seeking comment. Labor Department spokespeople also didn’t reply to requests for comment.

Alarmed Reactions

An array of sources inside and outside the DOL have expressed alarm in recent days that the administration would trust someone with Ellis’ track record to engage with foreign governments. Writing for the far-right website WorldNetDaily in 2015, Ellis penned a column titled “Legal Immigration Threatens Our Society.”

A photo tweeted by Acosta May 18 from Hamburg showed the secretary flanked by several people at the ministerial meeting, but Ellis wasn’t one of them. A DOL spokeswoman told Bloomberg BNA May 16 that Ellis and three ILAB civil servants were scheduled to attend the meeting with Acosta.

Acosta is said to have interviewed Ellis and Martha Newton for the top ILAB position, called deputy undersecretary for international affairs. Newton was a senior political official at the bureau under President George W. Bush. No other names have surfaced as possible contenders, said sources familiar with the process.

Ellis’ status in Trump’s sphere rose in 2016 after the publication of his column that accused the left of plotting the “liquidation of white, blue-collar working families.” Steven Bannon interviewed Ellis on his Breitbart radio show to promote the piece, and soon after Ellis began making media appearances billed as a Trump presidential campaign adviser. Bannon is now Trump’s chief strategist.

A White House official declined to comment, directing Bloomberg BNA to the DOL and to Ellis personally. Asked if the White House could provide an Ellis associate to give his perspective, the official emailed, “We would not provide proxies for individuals who do not work for the administration.”

The White House official, when asked to clarify if Ellis no longer works at the DOL, then responded, “My apologies. He is not at the White House. If he is on the beachhead team, you would have to reach out to that agency.”

ILAB Plays Key Role

ILAB is considered by labor and business stakeholders to be an essential piece of the White House push to restore U.S. manufacturing jobs by cracking down on labor abuses overseas. ILAB’s mission includes ensuring global workplaces don’t rely on child labor, forced labor or human trafficking.

The DOL has sent ILAB officials and other representatives to the annual G-20 labor and employment ministerial since its inception in 2010. The summit is designed to bring together leaders from across the globe to discuss global labor market challenges.

Acosta told the ministers about the Trump administration’s focus on lifting women’s workplace opportunities, according to a DOL statement May 18. The secretary cited a column co-written by Ivanka Trump on this topic.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ben Penn in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at; Terence Hyland at; Christopher Opfer at

Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Request Labor & Employment on Bloomberg Law