Su’s track record make her an excellent pick for Labor Department post
As the only two Asian Americans in the U.S. Senate, we know first-hand that our nation is stronger with diverse and accomplished leaders in every level of government. From city hall to the Capitol Building, the schoolboard to the White House, our country’s unmatched strength stems from our unparalleled diversity — as it is only when the tapestry of perspectives and experiences among our leaders reflects those of Americans at large that our government is best able to serve all those who call this nation home. Julie Su, President Biden’s nominee for deputy secretary of Labor, represents this uniquely American brand of excellence.
With millions of Americans out of work due to COVID-19, the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) mission takes on outsized importance. The DOL needs leadership with deep experience, skills and a track record of transforming government agencies to deliver on their mission. At this critical time in our nation’s history, Ms. Su checks all the boxes.
As California’s Secretary of Labor and Workforce Development, Secretary Su currently leads a state labor agency of more than 11,000 employees with a $26.4 billion budget, overseeing functions and operations that parallel the DOL: worker health and safety, labor law enforcement, workforce development, unemployment benefits, apprenticeships and worker training. Added to her 17 years of experience as an attorney and nonprofit executive at the nation’s largest Asian American civil rights legal organization, she brings tremendous management experience and expertise.
Secretary Su is a fair and collaborative leader, setting the table for everyone — including workers, labor unions, employers and the community and listening to all perspectives. She builds diverse teams and then empowers them to do their best work. As Secretary Su’s own staff attests, she “re‐energized staff at all levels and led numerous groundbreaking initiatives…increased efficiency throughout the division and broke down departmental silos that had stifled effective collaboration and caused redundancy…[and] was legendary for having learned the names of every one of the more than 600 staff…from secretarial support staff to investigators, deputies and legal staff.”
The daughter of Chinese immigrants, Secretary Su’s background shaped her personally and professionally, forging a deep and abiding dedication to public service. Her parents worked multiple jobs and ran small businesses to make ends meet and provide their daughters with opportunities they never had. Their long hours and sacrifices gave her a nearly unparalleled understanding of the myriad barriers faced by working people and people of color in this country, an insight that is reflected in her long and distinguished record of fighting for workers’ and civil rights. From defending the freedom of Thai garment workers to protecting low-wage workers against exploitation to building multiracial coalitions to fight back against racial injustices, Secretary Su has dedicated her career to helping people and communities who might not otherwise have access to justice.
Moreover, her experience over the last decade managing labor policy for California, the world’s fifth largest economy, will enable Secretary Su to hit the ground running on Day One. Under her leadership, the state launched an initiative to educate workers and employers in high-risk industries about maintaining healthy and safe workplaces and developed an employer portal to give employers the tools and resources to adopt health and safety plans in their workplaces during the pandemic. Secretary Su also co-chaired California’s Pay Equity Task Force, helped to lead a Future of Work Commission, expanded innovative partnerships between labor unions and employers to create quality, high road jobs and pioneered a community-based model of socially responsible small business development and investment in immigrant communities facing significant barriers to employment.
Importantly, Secretary Su has dealt with the overwhelming demand for assistance from workers who are unemployed. She has helped California challenge organized crime attacks and unemployment fraud that have affected all 50 states and has addressed systemic shortcomings exploited by bad actors during this pandemic. Despite the volume of claims, with California handling 1 in 5 unemployment insurance claims in the nation, and outdated, inflexible technology, Secretary Su has strived to provide millions of workers access to unemployment benefits and other assistance. According to the Century Foundation, as of November 2020, California was second nationally in percentage of initial claims paid.
Secretary Su’s leadership skills and proven track record of experience and effectiveness are just what we need. It is imperative — amidst a pandemic disproportionately affecting workers of color, immigrants and women and a related, disturbing increase in anti-Asian violence and discrimination — that the Senate confirm federal nominees with the leadership skills and lived experiences to rise to the unique challenges of this moment. Secretary Su’s nomination is supported by so many who see their stories — and the stories of the United States of America — reflected in hers. Secretary Su will be an outstanding deputy secretary of Labor and we are proud to add our voices to the chorus of support.
Hirono is the junior senator from Hawaii and Duckworth is the junior senator from Illinois.