President Joe Biden has nominated Jessica Looman, the acting head of the Dept. of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division—and a former construction union and Minnesota state official—to be its administrator.

An attorney by training, Looman has been the Wage and Hour Division’s principal deputy administrator since Jan. 20, 2021, and also has been serving as the division’s acting administrator.

Construction union officials praised Looman's nomination, which the White House announced on July 27. 

But a major construction contractor association criticized policy actions that the Wage and Hour Division has made under Looman's leadership, contending that the division's stances have been "on the wrong side" of several key issues.

DOL's Wage and Hour unit is critically important to the construction industry because it oversees implementation of the Davis-Bacon prevailing-wage requirements for construction projects. It also regulates overtime, minimum wage and family and medical leave issues across all industries. 

Proposed Revision of the Davis-Bacon Rules

Perhaps the division's most important current construction-related activity is a proposed revision of the Davis-Bacon rules.

The proposal, issued on March 11, is the most significant reworking of the federal prevailing-wage regulation in 40 years, according to DOL.

DOL is now reviewing the more than 40,000 comments it has received regarding the proposed regulation.

Construction unions support the proposed Davis-Bacon rewrite. Sean McGarvey, president of the North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU), said in a statement that the proposal would "modernize" the regulations and "protect workers, improve wage determinations and strengthen enforcement."

But Ben Brubeck, Associated Builders and Contractors vice president of regulatory, labor and state affairs, criticized the proposed changes as "radical reforms," which along with other actions by the division, would raise projects' costs. 

Much of Looman's career prior to joining the DOL has been in state government and with construction unions.

From 2019 until she came to DOL last year, Looman was executive director of the Minnesota State Building and Construction Trades Council.

Before that, she spent eight years with the Minnesota state government, rising to become the state Dept. of Commerce's commissioner, a position she held from November 2017 to January 2019, according to Looman's LinkedIn page.

Earlier, Looman spent six years at the Minnesota Dept. of Labor and Industry, including serving as deputy commissioner from 2014 to 2017. 

After graduating from law school in 2001, she became general counsel of the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA) District Council of Minnesota and North Dakota. She held that post until 2011.

Building Trades Support

Looman has strong support from the building trades.

NABTU's McGarvey said in a statement that in her current DOL position, Looman “has recovered millions of back wages for workers and expanded employer assistance to increase compliance, transparency and accountability with DOL programs and initiatives." 

Terry O’Sullivan, LIUNA general president, noted that Looman is a LIUNA member and called her a “talented and experienced administrator” and a “champion of worker’s rights.” 

But ABC's Brubeck said, "While I personally enjoy working with Looman on a professional level and appreciate her outreach to the regulated community, under leadership, the DOL Wage and Hour Division has been on the wrong side of many policy issues of importance to America's economy, employers and the construction industry."

Brubeck cites  upcoming rules dealing with independent contractors and overtime—along with the Davis-Bacon proposal—as actions that "will increase the cost of taxpayer-funded construction projects and discourage small businesses from rebuilding America."

Looman is Biden’s second nominee for the position. The Senate on March 30 failed to advance his initial choice, David Weil, Wage and Hour administrator from 2014 to 2017 during the Obama administration.

Some Republicans had criticized Weil for actions during his stint leading the Wage and Hour Division. They pointed to what they termed a “job-killing” overtime regulation, an “arbitrarily strict standard” for independent contractors and a “destructive” broadening of the definition of a “joint employee."

Biden withdrew Weil’s nomination on April 7.