PUNCHING IN: A GOP Labor Secretary and the Democrats Backing Him


Monday morning musings for workplace watchers 

DOL 73

By Chris Opfer and Ben Penn

DOL Down to Business |The Acosta Nine| Time to Reorg

Ben Penn: Now that Alex Acosta has been sworn in as labor secretary, expect the pace of appointments at the Labor Department to accelerate. I’m told the secretary worked through the weekend interviewing candidates to fill DOL vacancies.

As I reported last week, there are dueling forces that dictate the speed of policy action at the DOL, and that appears to be true at the EEOC and NLRB as well. One the one hand, even with Acosta finally in office, past senior DOL officials from both parties say he can't accomplish that much until his deputies arrive, and that may take months awhile in the crowded Senate schedule. But firm deadlines facing the fiduciary rule, overtime rule, budget and OMB reorganization order must be addressed one way or another. More here.

Names being floated to round out Trump’s DOL and NLRB crew reflect a range of prominent management attorneys (Bill Emmanuel) and former GOP government hands (Molly Conway). Will this unpredictable White House surprise us with a nominee without applicable experience? 

An open question is whether Acosta will trust acting career directors at the Wage & Hour Division, Employee Benefits Security Administration and other offices to unwind regulations, or will he prefer to appoint acting politicals? The Senate doesn't like this, but the administration is getting hounded by business groups warning them that time is of the essence. 

Will Acosta task bureaucrats to rip apart much of what they’ve spent the last eight years working on? Who is most likely to get reassigned to Alaska? Send us your thoughts at bpenn@bna.com and copfer@bna.com, or on Twitter: @BenjaminPenn and @ChrisOpfer.

Chris Opfer: Eight Democrats crossed the aisle to vote in favor of Acosta last week. They are Catherine Cortez Masto (Nev.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Bob Menendez (N.J.), Bill Nelson (Fla.), Jon Tester (Mont.) and Mark Warner (Va.). Throw in Independent Angus King, the Mainer who caucuses with the Dems, and you have what I’m going to call the Acosta Nine. If Republicans are ever going to get the 60 votes they need to pass labor and employment legislation in the Senate, these are the members they’re likely to court.

These Democrats were willing to play ball on Acosta’s nomination. Might they also be up for bargaining over more moderate increases to the minimum wage and overtime eligibility rule? What about some sort of deal on joint employer liability?

I asked CWA legislative director Shane Larson. He’s not so sure that a vote for Acosta is a vote for Republican labor policy. 

“We wish they had voted a different way, but labor itself has been split on Acosta,” Larson said. “On those other issues you see a united labor front.”

At least three unions – LIUNA, Carpenters, and Fire Fighters – endorsed Acosta for the Labor Dept. gig and others were noticeably muted in the confirmation process. They’re more likely to be on the same page on legislation that comes through Congress. Still, it’s worth pointing out that seven of the Acosta Nine are up for re-election next year. Five of them are in states that Donald Trump won last year.

BP: One of Acosta’s first orders of business will be to work with political advisers and career officials to develop a plan to reorganize, per OMB Director Mick Mulvaney’s directive. 

Outside groups are already submitting recommendations on ways to ensure efficiency. Will that include downsizing staff, similar to what’s taking place at the EPA? I asked Dennis DeMay, the soon-to-be retired president of the union representing some 8,000 DOL employees across the U.S. 

DeMay called me fresh off a briefing from HR at DOL headquarters, but said nobody knows yet how the department might downsize. Naturally, the union is anxious to learn what the new DOL political leadership means for its members’ job status. “We’ve asked about buyouts, but realistically buyouts cost money and the issue is having the money to go do it,” DeMay told me. If your goal is long-term reduction of employees, you might bite the bullet from that.”

He’s also gearing up to hear old suggestions, which the union opposes: move VETS to the VA, BLS to Commerce and eliminate the OFCCP entirely. 

Enjoy retirement, Denny! Thanks for your decades of service. 

CO: Today is May Day. Or International Workers Day, if you’re not into the whole brevity thing. Activists are marking the occasion with rallies and marches, including a number aimed at immigrant worker rights. 

Former labor secretary nominee Andy Puzder was best known among some critics as the fast food CEO who quipped that one benefit to using robot cashiers is that they don’t have rights on the job. He recently explained that pushes to raise minimum wages might even speed up the automation that’s already making bank tellers, grocery store cashiers and some factory workers obsolete. 

This week, Bloomberg Law’s Jaclyn Diaz is looking at the impact of automation on the manufacturing workforce. She’ll be reporting in particular on the rise of 3D printing technology and what one labor group is doing to ensure that workers are prepared.

BP: We’re punching out. Daily Labor Report subscribers can check in with us during the week for updates on what could be swift moves on political appointments now that Acosta is official. Jay-Anne Casuga has an interesting piece on the OFCCP director installment process.Jon Steingart is monitoring what looks like a legislative win for Uber in Florida. Martin Berman-Gorvine will tell us why resume fakery may be on the rise.

See you back here next Monday morning.

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