After months of hearings and often-vociferous debate, R. Alexander Acosta has been confirmed by the Senate as the new Secretary of Labor.
President Donald J. Trump nominated Acosta in March; he was sworn in on April 28 following a 60-38 Senate confirmation.
Acosta, 48, is the son of Cuban refugees, a native of Miami, and first-generation college graduate. He earned his undergraduate and law degrees from Harvard University.
Following law school, he worked as a law clerk for Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr., at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. He then worked at the law firm of Kirkland & Ellis and went on to teach at George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia School of Law.
Acosta has served in three presidentially appointed, Senate-confirmed positions. In 2002, he was appointed to serve as a member of the National Labor Relations Board, where he participated in or authored more than 125 opinions. In 2003, he was appointed Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, and from 2005 to 2009 he served as the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida.
Most recently, Acosta served as the dean of the FIU College of Law.
Acosta has twice been named one of the nation’s 50 most influential Hispanics by Hispanic Business magazine. He was also named to the list of 100 most influential individuals in business ethics in 2008. In 2013, the South Florida Hispanic Chamber of Commerce presented him with the Chairman’s Higher Education Award in recognition of his “outstanding achievements, leadership and determination throughout a lifetime of caring and giving back to the community.”
Acosta is President Trump's second choice for labor secretary. The first, Andrew Puzder—former chief executive officer of CKE Restaurants, the parent company of Hardee's and Carl's Jr.—withdrew from consideration amid complaints by Democrats about his record on labor issues and bipartisan concerns regarding allegations he hired a nanny who was an undocumented immigrant.
Among those praising the nomination and subsequent confirmation was the National Association of Manufacturers.
“Acosta is a proven leader who understands the complexities of the modern workplace,” President and CEO Jay Timmons said in a statement. “We are hopeful that he will listen to manufacturers’ concerns as we work to strengthen employer–employee relationships and provide workers with the right skills to succeed.”
“In recent years, regulations coming out of the Department of Labor have too often been overreaching and counterproductive, harming manufacturers’ abilities to create jobs and do what’s best for the millions of hardworking men and women employed in manufacturing careers,” he added. The nomination was “a positive sign that change is coming.”
A more critical view comes from Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Ranking Member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. “The Trump Administration has already cemented a reputation for flouting ethics rules and attempting to exert political pressure over federal employees,” she said during a nomination hearing last month. “So I expect our next Secretary of Labor to be someone who can withstand inappropriate political pressure, and prioritize workers and the mission of the Labor Department over, hypothetically speaking, President Trump’s business associates or Steve Bannon’s frightening ideology.”
Murray was also critical of Acosta’s tenure in the Civil Rights Division if the Department of Justice. “A formal investigation by the Inspector General showed that under your tenure, hiring in the Civil Rights Division systematically favored conservative applicants over those who appeared to be more liberal, regardless of their professional qualifications,” she said.
These and other actions, she added, “suggest a pattern of allowing political pressure to influence your decision-making on issues that should rise above partisanship.”
Democrats were also discouraged by Acosta’s stated deference to the White House when considering a regulatory rollback of the Department of Labor’s controversial overtime rule, and a fiduciary duty rule for broker-dealers and investment advisers offering retirement advice to clients.
On May 3, Acosta authored a blog post on the White House webpage entitled, “My First Day as the Secretary of Labor.” It reads, in part:
“When President Trump nominated me to be U.S. Secretary of Labor, I had to sit down and explain to my two daughters that if confirmed, we would have to move from Miami. They wanted to know why. I tried to explain what being the Secretary of Labor meant in words that a four- and six-year-old could understand. I said, “Daddy helps his students find good jobs, and the President has asked daddy to help people all over America find good jobs too.” That made sense to them, and it encapsulates many of the responsibilities of the Secretary of Labor.
My parents fled a dictatorship in search of freedom. They met in high school, fell in love and married young. Neither was fortunate enough to attend college. Instead, they limited their own professional futures to enter the workforce immediately, so that they could support our family.
Their sacrifices enabled me, as a first-generation Cuban-American, to graduate from college. Those same sacrifices have now given me the privilege to serve as Secretary of Labor. My parents’ experiences form the foundation of who I am. They also frame my perspective on the Department of Labor’s critical mission: to foster, promote and develop the welfare of our nation’s workers, job seekers and retirees.
I promise the American people my fullest effort in fulfilling this mission. We have much work to do. Too many Americans have seen their jobs vanish overseas. Too many Americans have seen their jobs filled by foreign workers. Too many Americans see jobs that are available, but require skills they do not have. We will meet these challenges and others.”