President Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of labor has been approved by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. Alexander Acosta now advances to the full Senate for a final confirmation vote.
Acosta, a former National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) member, generally has been praised by the employer community. He has a deep understanding of labor and employment issues and should be able to hit the ground running if confirmed, said Leslie E. Silverman, a shareholder at Fortney & Scott and contributor to Federal Employment Law Insider.
Acosta addressed several U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) initiatives during his confirmation hearing, including the new overtime rules currently stuck in judicial limbo, but he offered few details about his plans for them. He did, however, call into question the DOL’s authority to set an overtime salary threshold at all. “I think the authority of the secretary to address this is a separate issue from what the correct amount is,” he said.
A former chief economist from President Barack Obama’s DOL took issue with Acosta’s statements, arguing that Congress has amended the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) many times and has never objected to the salary test.
The Senate committee’s ranking member, Senator Patty Murray (D-Washington), said that she had serious concerns about Acosta from the start and that her concerns were only heightened after the hearing. “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 [DOL],” she said in a statement before the committee’s vote.
The Senate committee voted along party lines to advance Acosta to the full Senate. Afterward, the committee’s chair, Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee), praised the nominee and said in a statement that he expects Acosta will have no trouble in the final step. “He’s been confirmed by the Senate three times—and I expect that we’ll confirm him a fourth,” Alexander said. The full Senate’s vote has not yet been scheduled.
The administration has faced several delays in getting a labor secretary in place, which means the DOL has been without a voice in the ongoing budget process. Because Acosta was only a nominee when Trump’s budget proposal was being prepared, he didn’t get to make recommendations on where cuts could occur.