Who is Labor pick Alexander Acosta?

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Rene Alexander Acosta is President Trump’s second nominee to lead the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). Acosta is expected to have an easier path to confirmation than Andrew Puzder, who withdrew from consideration on Feb. 15.

While it is difficult to predict how Acosta might steer the DOL if confirmed by the Senate, his work at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) may offer some insight. Acosta served in three presidentially appointed, Senate-confirmed positions from 2002 to 2009. Each appointment was made by President George W. Bush. From December 2002 to August 2003, Acosta served as an NLRB member and participated in more than 125 opinions.

{mosads}While serving on the NLRB, Acosta took a primarily conservative approach that favored employers. In a decision on a Wal-Mart case in 2003, Acosta participated in a majority opinion ruling that the retail giant did not illegally solicit and resolve employee grievances in an effort to dissuade workers from unionizing. The majority reasoned that Wal-Mart did not violate the National Labor Relations Act (Act) because it continued an established practice of periodically meeting with workers in an effort to listen to their concerns. In another pro-employer decision in 2003, this time involving the Staten Island University Hospital, Acosta sided with the majority that determined a union had violated the Act by engaging in a series of verbal and abusive confrontations with hospital employees.


In 2010, Acosta expressed concern about the relevance of the NLRB’s future in an article in FIU Law Review. He advocated for increased board rulemaking, similar to other administrative agencies that promulgate rules after notice-and-comment procedures. According to Acosta, structural changes would promote predictability, efficiency, and stability for the board. The confirmation process will likely reveal more about Acosta’s views on the role of the DOL in shaping employment policy.

Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the top Democrat on the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, promised a “rigorous and thorough vetting” of the candidate, which is sure to examine several issues that arose during Acosta’s tenure as assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s civil rights division, where he served after his time on the NLRB.

One issue involves a 2008 investigation by the Justice Department’s inspector general, which looked into whether hiring practices and case assignments at the civil rights division that Acosta led were based on political affiliations. In that investigation, Acosta was singled out for failing to closely supervise a subordinate who was accused of illegally politicizing the hiring process and was accused of a lax approach to racial bias and voting rights.

Another issue could be a letter he wrote to a federal judge in Ohio justifying “vote caging” during the 2004 U.S. presidential election. According to speculation, the practice under scrutiny — in which private citizens in Ohio challenged the eligibility of African American voters — was a Republican strategy to disenfranchise minorities.

According to President Trump, he tapped Acosta to focus on boosting the American economy and workforce: “Alex is going to be a key part of achieving our goal of revitalizing the American economy, manufacturing and labor force.” If confirmed, it remains to be seen what the top priorities will be for Acosta and the Labor Department.

Acosta currently serves as dean of Florida International University’s College of Law, a post he has held since 2009. According to U.S. News & World Report’s Best Law School Rankings, FIU’s rank during Acosta’s tenure jumped 49 spots to No. 102 in the nation in 2015. In addition, under his leadership, FIU was ranked in 2012 by the National Jurist as the third most diverse law school in the country, with the highest percentage of Hispanic students at 39 percent. Before joining FIU, Acosta served as U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida from June 2005 to June 2009.

On the issue of civil rights, Acosta testified before Congress in 2011 about the importance of protecting the rights of Muslim Americans. He stated that America is a country built “on principles of freedom, and high on the list of freedoms is freedom of religious expression.”

Acosta earned both his undergraduate and law degrees from Harvard University and he previously served as a law clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr., then a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. If confirmed, Acosta will be the first Latino to serve in President Trump’s cabinet.

Brian D. Pedrow is partner and head of the labor and employment practice at Ballard Spahr, where he represents employers and management teams in matters related to employment, labor and employee benefit disputes.

Noah J. Goodman is an associate in the litigation and labor and employment practices at Ballard Spahr, where he advises employers on issues related to restrictive covenants, trade secrets, and unfair competition.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

Tags Alexander Acosta Employees Labor Department Patty Murray Trump administration workers

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