“I was just following orders” has never seemed like a particularly convincing argument throughout history, but that seems to be the platform that Alex Acosta is campaigning on to be Donald J. Trump’s Secretary of Labor, according to Christopher Cook in The Nation.
Cook notes that not only has Acosta not stirred the spirited opposition that Trump’s first Labor nominee Andrew Puzder generated, he has gained the support of several labor unions, and several Democratic member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which is scheduled to vote on Acosta today, didn’t even bother asking him any questions during his confirmation hearing.
Acosta definitely doesn’t appear as anti-worker as Puzder. When pressed by Senator Elizabeth Warren and others to take a stand on several pro-worker regulations threatened by the Trump administration, Acosta benignly begged off, explaining that cabinet members“work for the president, and we will all ultimately follow his direction unless we feel that we can’t.”
Cook reminds us that this seemingly unremarkable statement is actually quite threatening to the welfare of working people:
If Acosta follows his boss’s direction, he will roll back Obama rules extending overtime pay for roughly 13 million lower-income workers. He’ll work with Congress to repeal prevailing-wage protections—meaning less economic security—for federal contract workers, many of whom will be building bridges and roads if Trump passes an infrastructure plan. A compliant Acosta would also eliminate job training and employment programs for low-income seniors, as well as for unemployed and displaced workers across the United States. And he would diminish an already enfeebled Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)—putting millions of workers at greater risk of accident and injury on the job.
Acosta also deferred to Trump on his rollback of the Obama-era fiduciary rule aimed at protecting workers from receiving improper investment advice. The rule, slated to launch this April but now ensnarled in a six-month Trump administration “review,” would require retiree investment plan advisors to disclose any conflicts of interest.
Acosta’s main appeal seems to be that he is not Puzder. As much as there is to be said about that, it’s still not enough to win the support of Senator Patty Murray (D-WA):
“While there is no question that Alexander Acosta is a very different nominee than Mr. Puzder I continue to have serious concerns, given Mr. Acosta’s professional history, about whether undue political pressure would impact decision-making at the Department should he be confirmed. My concerns were only heightened at our hearing, when Mr. Acosta deferred to the President and refused to take a strong stand on critical issues including expanding overtime pay to more workers, fighting for equal pay, and advocating for investments in job training and other key priorities of the Department of Labor. I will vote no on this nomination.”
So far, the following organizations are opposing Acosta’s confirmation
- Interfaith Worker Justice
- Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
- National Domestic Workers Alliance
- National Employment Law Project
- The National Council of Jewish Women (expressing “Serious Concerns”)