Union leaders hail Su nomination as new Labor Secretary
Deputy Labor Secretary Julie Su (left) and Labor Secretary Marty Walsh (right) meet with Teamsters President Sean O’Brien (center). President Biden has nominated Su to succeed Walsh. | Teamsters

WASHINGTON—Union leaders hailed Democratic President Joe Biden’s nomination of Deputy Labor Secretary Julie Su, the aggressive former California Labor Commissioner, to succeed her boss, Laborers Local 223 member Marty Walsh, in the U.S. Labor Department’s top job.

So did Senate Labor Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, Ind-Vt., whose panel will schedule a confirmation hearing for Su, though he set no date. Even the top candidate Sanders pushed for the post, Association of Flight Attendants-CWA President Sara Nelson, one of the most outspoken union leaders, called Su “the real deal.”

“I’m confident Julie Su will be an excellent Secretary of Labor,” Sanders tweeted. “I look forward to working with her to protect workers’ rights and build the trade union movement in this country.” Panel Republicans, of course, opposed her. The corporate class is expected to do so.

Much of the high praise came from Californians, who know her best. They include Vice President Kamala Harris, Service Employees President Mary Kay Henry, who was the first leader to endorse her, Oakland-based National Nurses United, and the state labor federation. Harris made the actual announcement of Biden’s choice.

Several of those leaders, including AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler and Henry, lauded Su’s championship of low-wage workers, her battles against wage theft, and her commitment to workplace diversity. Those factors, Henry said, led to prior intense corporate opposition to her.

“From her beginnings protecting immigrants and other vulnerable workers, to fiercely combatting wage theft and abuse of low-wage workers in California, to her leadership” at DOL, “Su distinguished herself as a principled fighter for the basic rights of every worker, no matter where we’re from or what kind of work we do,” Shuler said.

“At this pivotal moment in history, that’s precisely the leadership America’s working people need in their next Secretary Of Labor.”

“Su has shown she knows how to use the levers of government to protect and expand the rights of working people, particularly low-wage workers, immigrants, and women of color who have been written out of our nation’s labor laws,” said SEIU’s Henry. “Anti-union critics attacked her…because they see how effective she’s been at taking on union-busting corporations.

“Su has championed policies that made workplaces safer, won hundreds of millions for workers in unpaid wages, and advanced justice for immigrants. A landmark case she won on behalf of garment workers spurred nationwide reforms to end sweatshops and protect the victims of human trafficking.”

And contrary to bosses’ claims, Su worked well with corporations in California to “develop a shared vision to bridge inequality by creating quality jobs and empowering workers to exercise their voice and join together in unions,” Henry said.

The Californians were enthusiastic, “To say we’re excited with today’s announcement would be an understatement on Biden nominating CA’s former Labor Secretary Julie Su to head the U.S. Department of Labor” tweeted Lorena Gonzalez, Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the California Labor Federation. KQED posted the tweet.

“We welcome Pres. Biden’s appointment of Julie Su to be the next @USDOL Secretary!” National Nurses United tweeted. “We look forward to working with her on the #StaffingCrisis in our hospitals and the need for bold action to protect nurses’ occupational health and safety during the ongoing pandemic.” Excerpts of other comments included:

“Julie Su truly supports working people and promotes union membership and collective bargaining so that workers can improve their lives and strengthen their communities,” the Communications Workers said. She’s “a fierce advocate for working people” who “began her career fighting for Thai garment workers literally held captive in a Los Angeles sweatshop.”

As California Labor Secretary, Su “stepped up enforcement against wage theft violators and made it easier for workers who witness wrongdoing to report those concerns confidentially.” That included cases CWA was involved with, one in getting workshare payments to Los Angeles Times workers whose hours were cut and another getting an OSHA inspection of an AT&T call center in San Diego after a coronavirus outbreak there.

Su’s “led a crackdown on wage theft, traveled the country to hear workers’ stories, and helped promote and institute the administration’s historic remaking of our economy from the bottom up and middle out,” said Teachers President Randi Weingarten.

“She is committed to the idea the economy should work for all, not just the wealthy few. Su has already run a labor department in California, where she fought to protect trafficked workers and boost the minimum wage. She has the drive and leadership skills to continue” implementing Biden’s pro-worker agenda.”

Teamsters President Sean O’Brien called Su “a phenomenal ally of working families…who isn’t afraid to stand up to white-collar criminals and corporate greed. The Senate has already confirmed her once, so we encourage them to do so again–expeditiously and without political sideshows.”

The top Republican on the Senate panel, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, seemed to promise such a sideshow in announcing he would oppose Su again. She won confirmation as Deputy Secretary in 2021 by a 50-47 party-line vote. Walsh plans to step down in mid-March.

Cassidy screamed about Su’s support for ending corporate misclassification of workers as “independent contractors,” which denies them worker rights and forces them to pay for all of their and employers’ contributions to Medicare, Social Security, unemployment insurance, and workers’ comp.

He further charged she supported California’s anti-misclassification law, AB5, which voters later rejected in a referendum—without mentioning that Uber and Lyft funded a $200 million campaign of distortions and lies against it. And Cassidy alleged, without proof, that Su was responsible for billions of dollars in fraudulent jobless benefit payments during her stint as California Labor Commissioner.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.