After his first nominee to lead the Labor Dept. withdrew from consideration, President Trump quickly has named a former Justice Dept. official and National Labor Relations Board member as his new choice for the post.
Trump, in a Feb. 16 White House announcement, said he would nominate R. Alexander Acosta, 48, dean of the Florida International University Law School since 2009, to be secretary of labor.
The Labor Dept. is important for the construction industry because it sets requirements for a variety of workplace issues. For example, through the department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration, it inspects and regulates jobsite safety.
The news about Acosta came less than 24 hours after Trump’s first choice for the job, Andrew Puzder, CEO of CKE Restaurants, withdrew, reportedly because he faced questions about various issues, including a failure to pay employment taxes for a household employee. Further, Puzder lacked the votes in the Senate to be confirmed.
In announcing Acosta as his new choice, Trump made the point that, previously, the Senate had confirmed him to three federal positions.
Acosta was an NLRB member from December 2002 to August 2003, when President George W. Bush nominated him as assistant attorney general in charge of the Justice Dept.’s civil rights division. Acosta later served as U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida and, in 2009, was named to head the FIU's law school.
Senate labor committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said Acosta's previous confirmations get his new nomination "off to a good start." He praised Acosta's "impressive work and academic background," adding, "I look forward to exploring his views on how American workers can best adjust to the rapidly changing workplace.”
Trump said in a statement, “Throughout his career, Alex Acosta has been a passionate advocate for equal opportunity for all Americans."
He added, “His extensive experience has tremendously impressed me and my team and makes us confident that he will lead the Dept. of Labor with the utmost competence and determination to support the American worker.”
The Associated General Contractors of America views Acosta as a good choice, says Jim Young, congressional relations director for labor, human resources and risk management. Young thinks Acosta will be confirmed.
Young says the new nominee's background in labor-related issues is “a welcome change at the department after the last eight years” and “makes him uniquely qualified to be the next secretary.”
Kristen Swearingen, Associated Builders and Contractors vice president of legislative and political affairs, said via email that the group is studying Acosta's legal opinons. However, she adds that the nominee "has a strong record of honorable public service."
Swearingen noted that ABC hopes Acosta "will create an environment at the U.S. Dept. of Labor that encourages input from the industries affected by its policies and accomplishes its important goal—ensuring a safe workplace and the fair and equitable treatment of American workers—in a reasonable manner that does not needlessly hinder economic growth."
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, who had opposed Puzder’s confirmation, said in a statement, “Unlike Andy Puzder, Alexander Acosta’s nomination deserves serious consideration.”
Trumka said the nominee "will have to answer tough questions and explain how he will enforce and uphold labor laws to benefit working people and not further tilt the balance of power toward corporate CEOs."
But the AFL-CIO leader also called Acosta "a public servant with experience enforcing [labor law]."
If Acosta is confirmed, several regulatory issues will be on his plate, including the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's March 2016 rule tightening exposure levels for airborne silica.
OSHA actually issued two final standards, one for construction and the other for general industry. The rules’ effective date was last June 23, putting both outside of the scope of the Congressional Review Act. Congressional Republicans in recent weeks have turned to that statute’s fast-track powers to undo several other regulations the Obama administration issued late in its term.
Construction firms now must comply with OSHA’s silica-exposure standard for their industry by June 23, 2017. But critics have challenged the rule in seven filings in six different federal courts. Those cases have been consolidated, and the matter is now before a federal appeals court.
Young also points to a Labor Dept. rule, issued last May, that expands overtime pay for companies in all industries, including construction. It requires companies to pay overtime to workers who earn less than $47,500, up from the previous $23,500 level.
That rule was to take effect last Dec. 1. But on Nov. 22 a federal district court judge temporarily blocked the overtime regulation from going into effect.
The Justice Dept. filed a notice on Dec. 1, near the end of Obama’s term, stating that it intended to appeal the injunction. The matter is now before a federal appellate court, but it remains to be seen how the Trump administration’s Labor and Justice departments will proceed on the case.
Story updated on Feb. 17 to include Acosta's age and to add comments from the Associated Builders and Contractors.