President Joe Biden has announced he intends to nominate Julie Su, the Dept. of Labor’s deputy secretary, to be DOL secretary.

Su, who was confirmed as Labor’s No. 2 official in July 2021, will become acting secretary in mid-March, when the current secretary, Martin J. Walsh, leaves to become executive director of the National Hockey League’s Players’ Union. 

Before joining the Labor Dept., Su was secretary of the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency, whose responsibilities include enforcing workplace laws and overseeing occupational safety and health. 

According to a White House statement, before joining the California agency, Su was a civil rights lawyer for 17 years "representing workers who are often invisible, including 72 Thai garment workers who were trafficked into the U.S. and forced to work behind barbed wire and under armed guard."

For her work, the MacArthur Foundation awarded Su one of its prized fellowships–known as "genius" grants–in 2001.

Former California Official

In a statement announcing his decision on Feb. 28, Biden said, “Over several decades, Julie has led the largest state labor department in the nation, cracked down on wage theft, fought to protect trafficked workers, increased the minimum wage, created good-paying, high-quality jobs and established and enforced workplace safety standards.” 

In March 1 remarks in the White House East Room to formally announce the pick, Biden praised Su as a "strong partner" to Walsh "and a real leader."

Biden noted that Su, whose mother was a union worker, is a daughter of Chinese immigrants. Addressing the White House gathering, Su said her mother arrived in the U.S. "on a cargo ship because she couldn't afford a passenger ticket."

She added that her mother's union job "had predictable hours, paid sick leave" and health benefits and provided a secure income and a pension.

Confirmation Process Begins

Su still has to be confirmed by the Senate, as she was when nominated for the DOL deputy secretary's position in 2021.

Looking ahead, Biden urged the Senate "to move this nomination quickly."

Senate Health, Education, Labor and Health (HELP) Committee Chair Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said on Twitter, “I’m confident Julie Su will be an excellent Secretary of Labor. I look forward to working with her to protect workers’ rights and build the trade union movement in this country.” 

Sanders’ committee will hold Su’s confirmation hearing, but the HELP Committee’s top Republican, Sen. Bill Cassidy (La.), criticized the nomination. He said in a statement, "Deputy Secretary Su has a troubling record and is currently overseeing the Dept. of Labor’s development of anti-worker regulations that will dismantle the 'gig' economy.”

He was referring to an October 2022 Labor Dept. proposed rule changing how Labor determines whether a worker is an employee or an independent contractor that gigs.

Cassidy, who voted against Su’s nomination to be deputy secretary, added, “This does not inspire confidence in her ability to hold her current position, let alone be promoted.”

Unions, ABC, AGC Comment

Organized labor strongly backs Biden's choice. 

Sean McGarvey, president of North America's Building Trades Unions, in a statement, called Su "a champion for workers." 

He added, "We are confident that working families will have another ally and advocate as DOL Secretary like they did with Secretary Walsh."

International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers International President Kennth W. Cooper said in a statement that his union “fully supports” Su’s nomination.

Cooper called Su “a lifelong advocate for working people and civil rights” and praised her work at the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency.

In comments to ENR in mid-February—before Biden’s announcement—Ben Brubeck, Associated Builders and Contractors vice president of regulatory, labor and state affairs, said, “ABC expects that, as Secretary, Julie A. Su will continue the policies that Secretary Marty Walsh put in motion, and many of these anti-competitive and anti-growth policies cause ABC and our members concern." 

Brubeck added, “ABC would welcome the opportunity to work with Su to create an environment where each worker and job creator can prosper in a safe and healthy workplace. ABC will continue to create value for the taxpayer because we believe workers and job creators should have the freedom to choose how to achieve their career dreams in union or nonunion environments and the opportunity to win and deliver work based on merit.”

James Young, Associated General Contractors of America senior director of congressional relations, human resources, labor and safety, said in mid-February that with Su’s background at the state level, “We’ll have to see how she brings that regulatory enforcement at the federal level and if it’s different from what we’ve seen over the last two years.”