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Trump’s New Labor Pick Eugene Scalia Will Be a Catastrophe For Workers Rights

Wednesday, September 25th, 2019

Image result for heidi shierholzWorking women and men need and deserve a Secretary of Laborsomebody who will look out for their interests, protect them from unscrupulous employers, set strong health and safety standards, and

safeguard their retirement security. Unfortunately, corporate lawyer Eugene Scalia, the man named by Image result for Lynn RhinehartPresident Trump to be the next Secretary of Labor, is not that person.

Scalia, a graduate of the University of Chicago Law School, is a partner at the Washington, D.C.-based law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, where he specializes in labor and employment law and administrative law. He Image result for Celine McNicholasis an active participant in the activities of the Federalist Society—a right-wing legal group. Scalia was nominated in 2001 by President George W. Bush to be Solicitor of Labor, but his nomination was blocked because of opposition over his extreme views against worker health and safety protections. Bush circumvented the Senate and installed Scalia as Solicitor through a recess appointment. Scalia returned to his law firm at the beginning of 2003.

Scalia has built his career representing corporations, financial institutions, and other business organizations—and fighting worker protections like health and safety regulations, retirement security, and collective bargaining rights. Scalia’s reputation as the go-to lawyer for corporations wanting to avoid worker and consumer protections is so notorious that a headline in a Bloomberg Businessweek profile on Scalia read, “Suing the Government? Call Scalia.” Here are just a few examples of cases where Scalia, on behalf of corporations and trade associations, has attacked worker and consumer protections:

Worker Health and Safety

Scalia led the fight on behalf of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce against regulations to protect workers from injuries caused by unsafe workplace design—known as ergonomics rules. According to Labor Department experts, the rules would have prevented 600,000 injuries a year. Scalia ridiculed the extensive science underlying the rules as “junk science par excellence” and “quackery,” and suggested that unions supported the rules as a ploy to increase membership. The rules were adopted by the Labor Department in 2000 but were overturned by a Republican Congress after Bush was elected president in 2000.

Fighting ergonomic protections is where Scalia made his mark, but his attacks on worker health and safety protections did not stop there. On behalf of United Parcel Service (UPS), Scalia opposed rules that would have required employers, and not individual workers, to pay for protective equipment that was needed to keep them safe on the job. And he represented SeaWorld when it unsuccessfully tried to fight off an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) citation and fine for failing to protect Dawn Brancheau, a trainer at SeaWorld who was killed on the job by a killer whale.

Retirement Security

Eugene Scalia led the legal work attacking the Department of Labor’s fiduciary rule, which safeguarded workers’ retirement security by ensuring that investment advisers are acting in the best interest of workers and do not have a conflict of interest. The rule would have outlawed common practices such as financial advisers steering retirement savers toward investments that provide a good commission, but a lower rate of return. The Department of Labor estimated that conflicted investment advice costs workers $17 billion a year. Scalia attacked the rules on behalf of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business interests, and persuaded a federal court to throw them out, leaving workers vulnerable once again to conflicted advice on their retirement investments.

Health Care

In 2006, the Maryland legislature passed a law requiring large corporations to spend 8 percent of payroll on either providing private health insurance or paying into the state’s Medicaid fund. The legislature adopted the law to ensure that large corporations like Walmart were paying their fair share of health care costs for their 16,000 Maryland employees, after studies in other states showed large numbers of Walmart workers on publicly funded health care because of the low wages paid by Walmart. On behalf of Walmart and other business interests, Scalia got the law struck down.

Collective Bargaining Rights

Scalia represented the Boeing Corporation when it was charged by the National Labor Relations Board with illegally transferring work to South Carolina from its unionized plant outside Seattle, Washington in retaliation for workers at the Washington plant exercising their rights under federal labor law, and specifically their right to strike. Boeing and Republicans in Congress embarked on a scorched-earth campaign against the NLRB complaint, holding an oversight hearing in South Carolina and subpoenaing the NLRB’s Acting General Counsel to appear, and introducing legislation to overturn the NLRB complaint even though it had not yet been adjudicated. Boeing eventually settled the complaint in connection with collective bargaining negotiations with the Machinists Union.

Consumer Protections

On behalf of financial institutions and corporations, Scalia has attacked numerous pieces of the Dodd-Frank Act, that was enacted to protect consumers against Wall Street’s power. Scalia challenged the Securities and Exchange Commission’s “proxy access” rule that would have given large shareholders a chance to put alternative candidates forward for a corporation’s board of directors through the corporation’s proxy voting materials. On behalf of business groups, Scalia succeeded in getting the rule overturned, thus denying unions and other institutional shareholders access to the proxy system to inform shareholders about candidates.

Workers with Disabilities

Workers at United Parcel Service who were returning to work following medical leave for on-the-job injuries sued UPS, alleging that the company had illegally failed to provide reasonable accommodations for their disabilities. Workers successfully won certification of a national class of similarly situated workers to pursue their claims, but Scalia, on behalf of UPS, got the class certification reversed on appeal.

Wage Security

Dealers in a Las Vegas casino sued their employer after the employer instituted a new rule requiring the dealers to share their tips with their supervisors. Scalia got the lawsuit thrown out, arguing that the dealers did not have a right to sue for their wages—that their only remedy was through the state commissioner of labor.

Defending Corporations Against Sexual Harassment Charges

Scalia represented the giant bank HSBC when it was sued for retaliating against an employee who reported sexual harassment of some of his co-workers by a manager. According to published reports, Scalia’s questioning of one of the sexual harassment victims was so aggressive that it brought the victim to tears.

Working people do not need a deregulatory wrecking ball as Secretary of Labor. They need somebody who will stand up for strong worker protection rules and aggressive enforcement of them. Unfortunately, the Trump administration seems determined to push through its deregulatory agenda, tearing down worker and consumer protections at the behest of large corporations. Former Secretary of Labor Alex Acosta reportedly lost favor with the Trump White House because he moved too slowly on reversing worker protections issued during the Obama Administration. Given his history of attacking worker and consumer protections at the behest of big business, there is plenty of reason to worry that Eugene Scalia will drive the deregulatory train, to the detriment of working women and men.

Scalia will have a confirmation hearing when the Senate returns in September. It is essential that Senators press Scalia for his views on the role of government regulation—and the role of the Department of Labor—in protecting working women and men. Senators should ask him to identify worker protections that he would promote, and whether there are cases he has been involved in on behalf of working people, not corporations. Senators should discourage Scalia from further weakening worker protections adopted during the Obama administration. These rules were adopted after extensive public input and are supported by comprehensive evidence demonstrating their value and importance to working people. They should not be weakened or overturned simply because anti-regulatory ideologues want it.

At the end of the day, Scalia’s answers to these questions are unlikely to persuade skeptics that he is the right man for the job, because words at a hearing cannot overcome a long career of attacking worker protections on behalf of corporations. But Scalia should be required to state on the record what his intentions are as Secretary of Labor and what he plans to do to protect working people, and, if confirmed, he must be held accountable.

This article was originally published at In These Times on September 24, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Heidi Shierholz is Senior Economist and Director of Policy at the Economic Policy Institute. From 2014 to 2017, she served the Obama administration as chief economist at the Department of
Labor.

About the Author: Lynn Rhinehart was General Counsel of the AFL-CIO from 2009 until her retirement in 2018.

Ms. Rhinehart joined the legal staff at the AFL-CIO as an Associate General Counsel in 1996.  She graduated magna cum laude from the Georgetown University Law Center in 1994.  Following graduation, she clerked for two years for the Honorable Joyce Hens Green of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.  Ms. Rhinehart is a member of the District of Columbia bar.  From 1987-1990, Ms. Rhinehart worked as a professional staff member for the Senate Subcommittee on Labor, chaired by Senator Howard Metzenbaum (D-OH).  Ms. Rhinehart is the Executive Director of the Lawyers Coordinating Committee (LCC), a national organization of 2,000 union-side labor lawyers in law firms and legal departments.  She serves on the Board of Directors of the Peggy Browning Fund and the National Employment Law Project.

About the Author: Celine McNicholas is EPI’s director of government affairs and labor counsel. An attorney, her current areas of work include a wide range of workers’ rights issues, including labor and employment law, collective bargaining, and union organizing. She was a core member of EPI’s Perkins Project on Worker Rights and Wages Policy Watch, an online resource that tracked federal actions affecting working people and the economy during the first year of the Trump administration. McNicholas continues to monitor and analyze the Trump administration’s labor and employment policies.

Scalia’s challenge: Fiery old writings in a new era of #MeToo

Thursday, July 25th, 2019

Ian Kullgren March 9, 2018. (M. Scott Mahaskey/Politico)

Two decades before being nominated as President Donald Trump’s Labor secretary, Eugene Scalia was at war with the lion of the Senate.

In 2001, Sen. Ted Kennedy, the Democratic chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, expressed skepticism of then-President George W. Bush’s decision to nominate Scalia as the Labor Department’s top legal official. In his opening statement at Scalia’s confirmation hearing, Kennedy criticized a 1998 essay in which Scalia said that a form of workplace sexual harassment known as quid pro quo “should be eliminated as a functional category of discrimination” under the law.

But Scalia had a formidable ally: Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Supreme Court justice and close friend of fellow Justice Antonin Scalia, Eugene Scalia’s father. In a letter to the committee, Ginsburg said the younger Scalia’s essay was “written with refreshing clarity and style. It is informative, thought-provoking, and altogether a treat to read.”

“She thought very highly of him. Ruth appreciates good lawyering,” Bill Kilberg, a partner at Gibson Dunn who considers both Scalia and Ginsburg close friends, said in a phone interview.

Scalia’s strongly worded essay is among key pieces of his record set to resurface as he faces confirmation in a #MeToo world. His views aired in that hearing 18 years ago were just a small piece of a career-long commitment to conservative legal theory and a penchant for rhetorical flair that echoes his father — but also present a potential liability in the Senate, which is more discerning toward sexual harassment issues than it was two decades ago.

“The Senate’s changed dramatically in the years since that confirmation hearing occurred,” said Jim Manley, Kennedy’s press secretary at the time and later a senior strategist for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. “What may not necessarily be a big deal then could be a big deal this time around. The people have changed and the issues have changed over the years, and he’s going to get some scrutiny on this.”

Scalia has represented a range of corporate clients in complaints related to workplace sexual harassment. As recently as 2015, he briefly worked for the global bank HSBC in a case involving current and former employees who accused a senior executive of repeated and unwanted sexual advances. Trump announced Scalia’s nomination last Thursday — a week after the ouster of Alex Acosta, who resigned amid scrutiny over his role in brokering a 2008 plea deal with wealthy sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, arrested in New Jersey earlier this month on new charges of sex trafficking.

Some liberal groups have already seized on Scalia’s prior writings, arguing they should disqualify him from serving in Trump’s cabinet. Allied Progress director Derek Martin said Scalia “may be a gifted legal mind, but his moral compass clearly needs some calibration.”

“The Senate should reject this nominee and demand a Labor secretary who will look out for all Americans in the workplace, not just the ones that sign the checks,” Martin said.

Scalia’s nomination was quickly celebrated by conservatives who see him as a warrior against regulations and a defender of business freedom.

“The confirmation process has gotten so silly that people will make something out of the most ridiculous things and attempt to block a nominee, but I will tell you that I know Gene Scalia would never tolerate sexual harassment in the workplace,” added Helgi Walker, a longtime colleague of Scalia’s at Gibson Dunn.

Scalia was narrowly approved by the Senate panel in 2001, despite the controversy stirred by his previous writings on sex discrimination. He was appointed to the position four months later during the Senate’s recess after Democrats, who controlled the upper chamber, refused to hold a confirmation vote.

The 7,000-word opinion piece, which Scalia published in the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, a common resource for conservative legal scholarship, was cited by the Supreme Court in Burlington Industries v. Ellerth, a case that sought to clarify the legal exposure companies face amid instances of sexual harassment. The decision came a little over a year after the justices decided Clinton v. Jones, another landmark case involving former Arkansas state employee Paula Jones’ sexual harassment claim against then-President Bill Clinton.

In the essay, Scalia does not endorse leniency for harassers. But he does argue that quid pro quo harassment, the illegal practice of soliciting sexual favors in return for professional advancement, shouldn’t be distinguished from generalized harassment in the workplace.

“His point was only that employers should be liable and you don’t need a new doctrine to make it liable,” Kilberg said.

Scalia declined to comment on the record. White House spokesperson Judd Deere said his “past experience in the federal government … makes him the right choice to lead the [Labor] department.”

“Eugene Scalia is one of the most experienced and respected labor and employment lawyers in the country, which is why President Trump has expressed his intent to nominate him,” Deere added.

Still, many of the passages in Scalia’s essay — though part of a larger and more complex legal argument — are likely to draw criticism from opponents.

“Saying ‘You’re an incompetent stupid female bitch’ a single time is not actionable environmental harassment,” Scalia wrote in one of his most emphatic lines. “Why should suit lie for saying ‘I don’t have time for you right now, Kim, unless you tell me what you’re wearing,’ a statement that Judge Flaum found to be a quid pro quo proposition in his Jansen opinion?”

Kennedy and his Democratic colleagues accused Scalia of arguing that employers should not be liable when executives or supervisors promise perks and promotions in exchange for sexual favors, or when they threaten adverse employment actions if a subordinate declines to engage in sexual activity.

“[Scalia] has said that employers should not be strictly liable in sexual harassment cases unless they expressly endorse the conduct of the harasser,” Kennedy (D-Mass.) said in his opening statement, according to a transcript of the confirmation hearing. (Kennedy died in 2009.)

To combat the onslaught of criticism from their Democratic colleagues, the panel’s Republican members frequently referred back to Ginsburg’s letter.

“I do not think she would have written that if she thought you were off the world somewhere in your views on that,” then-Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) said of Ginsburg, whom he referred to as “the most ardent defender of women’s rights on the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Scalia ultimately overcame the controversy in 2001 and was approved by the Senate panel 11-10, with Vermont independent Jim Jeffords casting the deciding vote.

When Scalia started his new job, he boasted the essay as one of his top legal writings on the Labor Department website.

Rebecca Rainey contributed to this report.

This article was originally published by Politico on July 12, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Ian Kullgren is a reporter on POLITICO’s employment and immigration team. Before joining POLITICO, he was a reporter for The Oregonian in Portland, Ore. and was part of a team that covered a 41-day standoff with armed militants at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Their efforts earned the Associated Press Media Editors grand prize for news reporting in 2017. His real beat was politics, though, and he spent most his time at the state capitol covering the governor and state legislature.

About the Author: Gabby Orr is a White House reporter for POLITICO. She previously covered Donald Trump’s ascension to power for the Washington Examiner, from the day he announced his campaign to his transition to the White House. She spent one month in 2016 embedded in New Hampshire, where she covered several Republican candidates prior to the state’s first-in-the-nation primary. Orr has also worked for The New York Post and Fox News’ digital platform. Originally from Sonoma, Calif., she graduated from George Washington University in 2015 with a degree in political science.

Trump nominates mini-Scalia as labor secretary, this week in the war on workers

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2019

It’s important to uphold the principle that someone who lets a sexual predator—who preys on children, no less—off easy because he’s rich and connected and has good lawyers should not be in charge of a large chunk of the federal government, so Alexander Acosta had to go. That said, many, many workers will be much worse off as a result of his departure. Acosta was a conservative Republican who could be counted on to put the interests of the wealthy over the interests of workers, but he wasn’t in a big rush and he wasn’t ready to burn down the entire system of government to screw workers a little more quickly. Now, Donald Trump has nominated Eugene Scalia, son of the late Supreme Court justice, to replace Acosta.

Scalia has represented Walmart against corporate whistleblowers. He’s represented Wynn casinos against table game dealers who objected to tip pooling rules that gave some of their tips to managers. The list goes on and on.

Of course we knew Trump was going to nominate someone terrible. And that’s just what he did, because Trump and his entire party are all about putting a boot on the neck of workers.

 

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos on July 20, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos.

Trump's acting Labor secretary pick feared by unions

Monday, July 15th, 2019

Ian Kullgren March 9, 2018. (M. Scott Mahaskey/Politico)Patrick Pizzella, tapped by President Donald Trump on Friday to step in as acting Labor secretary, is a polarizing figure beloved by conservatives for his pro-business views and disliked by unions and Democrats for a history of opposing worker protections.

Pizzella, who has served as deputy secretary of Labor since April 2018, will take over following Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta’s resignation amid controversy over a plea deal that he brokered for wealthy sex offender Jeffrey Epstein as a prosecutor in Florida. Pizzella comes “highly recommended by Alex,” Trump told reporters Friday.

But Pizzella’s ascendance to the top of the agency tasked with enforcing labor protections is something unions have long feared. He worked alongside disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff to shield the Northern Mariana Islands from federal labor laws in the 1990s, and generally has favored easing workplace regulations.

“If the president is serious about helping working people, selecting Patrick Pizzella wouldn’t be the way to demonstrate that,” Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said in a statement. “My dealings with Patrick have been limited, but his dubious track record, including his association with Jack Abramoff, doesn’t bode well.”

Some Democrats on Friday urged Trump to put someone else in charge of the Labor Department. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) said in a written statement that Pizzella‘s “checkered past on these issues — including lobbying with convicted felon Jack Abramoff on behalf of sweatshops and pushing anti-worker policies as a member of the Federal Labor Relations Authority — make him unfit to lead the Department of Labor.”

This article was originally published by Politico on July 12, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Ian Kullgren is a reporter on POLITICO’s employment and immigration team. Before joining POLITICO, he was a reporter for The Oregonian in Portland, Ore. and was part of a team that covered a 41-day standoff with armed militants at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Their efforts earned the Associated Press Media Editors grand prize for news reporting in 2017. His real beat was politics, though, and he spent most his time at the state capitol covering the governor and state legislature.

Alexander Acosta stepping down as Labor secretary

Friday, July 12th, 2019

Ian Kullgren March 9, 2018. (M. Scott Mahaskey/Politico)Eliana JohnsonAnita Kumar

Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta is stepping down from his post, just two days after he held a news conference to defend a plea deal that he brokered for wealthy sex offender Jeffrey Epstein while serving as a U.S. attorney in Florida more than a decade ago.

President Donald Trump alerted reporters this morning of Acosta’s departure. “This was him, not me,” said Trump as Acosta stood beside him.

Trump, who saw Acosta largely as a source of favorable monthly statistics about unemployment and job growth, called Acosta “a great labor secretary not a good one” and “a tremendous talent. He’s a Hispanic man, he went to Harvard, a great student.” Trump indicated that he was satisfied with Acosta’s explanation for the plea deal in Wednesday’s news conference, saying, “He explained it.”

But Acosta has had a rocky relationship in recent months with other White House officials, including acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, over the perceived slow pace of deregulation at the department. And one person familiar with the situation said that although Trump initially thought Acosta handled the Epstein controversy well, over the last couple of days the president saw the negative press and didn’t like it.

“POTUS is not a fan of bad press, especially when other people make him look bad,” this person said.

Acosta, a 50-year-old Harvard-educated lawyer, came newly under fire for the lenient 2008 plea deal after Epstein was re-arrested July 6 in New York City and charged with sex trafficking. Under the earlier plea agreement, Epstein served only 13 months of an 18-month term and was permitted daily furloughs to go to the office. Epstein also was required to register as a sex offender and to pay restitution to his underage victims.

At the White House this morning, Acosta told reporters: “Over the last week I’ve seen a lot of coverage of the department of labor. And what I have not seen is the incredible job creation that we’ve seen in this economy. more than 5 million jobs, I haven’t seen that…. I do not think it is right and fair for this administration’s labor department to have Epstein as the focus, rather than the incredible economy that we have today.”

It’s an ignominious end for a son of middle-class Cuban immigrants who climbed his way up and made a name for himself in conservative social circles. Acosta led his resignation letter with mention of his parents and their desire to secure “the best opportunities for their son and grandchildren.”

“He’s been careful for his whole life, going to the right schools and connecting to the right people,” said a former administration official. “And now he’s just going to be remembered for Jeffrey Epstein.”

Things began to unravel for Acosta in November, when the Miami Herald published a lengthy reexamination of the case, and accelerated in February, when a district court judge ruled that the 2008 plea deal violated the Crime Victims Rights Act because Acosta never revealed the terms of the deal to Epstein’s victims before it was finalized. Also in February, the Justice Department opened an investigation into whether Acosta’s prosecution team committed professional misconduct in its handling the Epstein case.

Key details of Acosta’s plea agreement with Epstein were known to senators at the time Acosta was confirmed as labor secretary, though initially these seemed minor compared to domestic abuse allegations against Trump’s first pick for labor secretary, Andy Puzder. Acosta defended his actions at a congressional hearing this past April, saying he entered the case only after a state grand jury recommended that only one charge be filed against Epstein — a course of action that would have resulted in no jail time for Epstein, no restitution to victims, and no registration as a sex offender.

“At the end of the day Mr. Epstein went to jail,” Acosta said. “Mr. Epstein was incarcerated, he registered as a sex offender, the world was put on notice that he was a sex offender, and the victims received restitution.“

Acosta has suggested that he and his attorneys were worn down by Epstein’s all-star legal team, which included Alan Dershowitz and Kenneth Starr, the special prosecutor who investigated the Monica Lewinsky scandal in the 1990s. Among other tactics, the Epstein lawyers investigated the prosecutors looking for “personal pecadillos,” Acosta wrote in 2011 to journalist Conchita Sarnoff, whose 2016 book “TrafficKing” chronicled the Epstein prosecution. Acosta called these efforts “a year-long assault on the prosecution and the prosecutors.”

Acosta has also said that the full extent of Epstein’s alleged abuse wasn’t known at the time he struck the plea deal.

“Had these additional statements and evidence been known,” he wrote in a letter Sarnoff, “the outcome may have been different.”

Epstein aside, Acosta‘s relationships in the White House wore thin in recent months. Known for his careful demeanor, Acosta was privately accused by White House officials of slow-walking deregulatory efforts, such as business-friendly policies on overtime pay and shielding franchised companies from legal liabilities.

It took two years for DOL to issue a regulation outlining a program for privately led apprenticeships, a delay that irked the president’s daughter, Ivanka Trump. A former DOL official told POLITICO in June that she was “fed up” with Acosta.

Mulvaney curtailed Acosta’s rule-making authority shortly after taking office in January, requiring three White House aides to sit in on all the agency’s regulatory meetings. Then in May, the White House took the unusual step of ordering Acosta to fire his chief of staff, Nick Geale, after an internal review concluded that Geale’s interactions with employees — including frequent profanity-laced tirades — were damaging morale inside the agency.

Even as White House aides abandoned Acosta, the president himself remained content, in large part because of the favorable monthly employment statistics typically reported by DOL. Acosta went out of his way to praise the strength of the economy on social media, often mentioning the president by name.

“I feel very badly, actually, for Secretary Acosta,“ Trump said July 9. “I’ve known him as somebody that works so hard and does such a good job. I feel very badly about that whole situation.”

This article was originally published by Politico on July 12, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Ian Kullgren is a reporter on POLITICO’s employment and immigration team. Before joining POLITICO, he was a reporter for The Oregonian in Portland, Ore. and was part of a team that covered a 41-day standoff with armed militants at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Their efforts earned the Associated Press Media Editors grand prize for news reporting in 2017. His real beat was politics, though, and he spent most his time at the state capitol covering the governor and state legislature.

He is a native of the mitten state and graduated from Michigan State University, where he ditched most of his classes to work on The State News, the student newspaper. He’s a big fan of mountains, for hiking in the summer and skiing in the winter.

About the Author: Eliana Johnson is a White House correspondent at POLITICO. She previously served as Washington editor of National Review, where she led the organization’s 2016 election coverage. She has worked as a producer at the Fox News Channel, as a research associate at the Council on Foreign Relations, and as a staff reporter for the New York Sun, where she covered higher education. She graduated from Yale College in 2006 with a degree in History.

About the Author: Anita Kumar serves as White House correspondent and associate editor, covering President Donald Trump and helping organize and guide coverage for POLITICO’s White House team.

Kumar joined POLITICO in 2019 after covering the White House for McClatchy’s chain of newspapers for six years. She reported on Hillary Clinton’s campaign for president in 2016 and Barack Obama’s re-election campaign in 2012.

Prior to that, she worked at the Washington Post, writing about Virginia politics, and the Tampa Bay Times, writing about local, state and federal government both in Florida and Washington. She started her career at the News & Advance in Lynchburg, Va. and worked briefly at the News & Record in Greensboro, N.C.

A native Virginian, Kumar grew up in Charlottesville and attended the University of Virginia.

Kumar was elected to the White House Correspondents’ Association board in July 2018 for a three-year term. She appears regularly on television and radio.

Calls Increase for Trump Labor Sec. Alexander Acosta To Resign

Friday, February 22nd, 2019

A U.S. District judge ruled Thursday that U.S. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta committed a crime in 2007 when, as a U.S. prosecutor at the time, he secretly gave a lenient plea deal to a politically-connected billionaire accused of sex trafficking underage girls.

In a case brought by victims of billionaire and Trump associate Jeffrey Epstein, Judge Kenneth Marra found that Acosta and other federal prosecutors violated the Crime Victims’ Rights Act by brokering a plea deal with Epstein, allowing him to serve only 13 months in a county jail for his crimes, and then sealing the agreement.

The ruling came nearly three months after the Miami Herald‘s explosive report on the plea deal, which prompted the Justice Department to begin an investigation into the prosecutors’ conduct.

Marra’s decision led to renewed calls for Acosta—who was appointed by President Donald Trump and who as head of the Labor Department is responsible for combating sex trafficking—to resign.

By sealing Epstein’s plea agreement, Acosta stole from more than 30 of Epstein’s victims—some of whom were as young as 13 when they were recruited by his paid employees and then coerced into sex acts by him—the chance to attend Epstein’s sentencing and demand a harsher punishment.

“While the government spent untold hours negotiating the terms and implications of the [agreement] with Epstein’s attorneys, scant information was shared with victims,” Marra found.

“The government-aligned themselves with Epstein, working against his victims, for 11 years,” Brad Edwards, the attorney representing the women who survived Epstein’s abuse, told the Herald. “Yes, this is a huge victory, but to make his victims suffer for 11 years, this should not have happened. Instead of admitting what they did, and doing the right thing, they spent 11 years fighting these girls.”

Epstein’s victims and the U.S. government now have 15 days to come to a resolution following Marra’s ruling.

This article was published in In These Times on February 22, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Julia Conley is a Maine-based staff writer for Common Dreams.

HELP Committee Should Ask Acosta for Commitments to the DOL Mission

Tuesday, March 21st, 2017

Ahead of Wednesday’s confirmation hearing for Alexander Acosta as Secretary of Labor, workers and workers’ advocates have been vocal about their concerns with his appointment. Workplace Fairness, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and Senator Elizabeth Warren, among others, are seeking assurances from Mr. Acosta about how he intends to protect workers and carry out the mission of the Department of Labor.

While we haven’t seen the level of outrage with the Acosta nomination that we saw with former nominee Andrew Puzder, Mr. Acosta still has a lot to answer for, and his relative lack of a record on workers’ rights issues is cause for concern. Will he protect against political influence and work to uphold the Department’s mission to promote worker welfare and assure workers’ benefits and rights?  Or will he toe the line of the Trump administration, fail to aggressively pursue investigations and litigation, and leave American workers out in the cold?

Transparency

Earlier this month, Workplace Fairness sent a position statement to the Senate HELP committee in charge of the confirmation hearing. Workplace Fairness focuses generally on advocating for workers’ rights, and more specifically on ensuring that America workers have access to comprehensive, easy to understand, information about their legal rights and remedies in the workplace. Workplace Fairness made clear that in light of recent issues with information going missing from government websites, Mr. Acosta should commit to ensuring that DOL continually provides transparency about his intentions going forward, and provides comprehensive information to the public about our rights in the workplace and how to enforce them.

Politicized hiring

Another issue sparking a call for assurances from Acosta is the potential for politicized hiring at the Department of Labor. The Trump administration is actively promoting an anti-worker agenda, from appointing a cabinet full of millionaires, to cutting the budget for programs that help workers, and working to repeal the Affordable Care Act which will dramatically impact all workers’ health benefits, even those insured through their employers. It is vital that the Secretary of Labor guard against politicized hiring that would turn the Department into an ally of the current administration rather than an agency committed to protecting workers. Acosta will most certainly have to answer questions about the 2008 report from the Office of the Inspector General which implicated him in politicized hiring at the Department of Justice when he was an Assistant Attorney General. The report found that he failed to properly supervise his deputy assistant who was clearly engaged in politicized hiring, in violation of civil service laws. He will need to explain to the HELP Committee how he intends to ensure that this type of hiring doesn’t happen at the Department of Labor. The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Right recently issued a statement (joined by Workplace Fairness and 86 other organizations) specifically asking how Acosta would prevent political interference with the Office of Federal Contract Compliance, the Wage and Hour Division, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics as they carry out their missions to enforce rules and laws like the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Overtime Rule, and report vital statistics and information to the  American public.

Budget cuts

Senator Elizabeth Warren also raised grave concerns about a variety of issues, including politicized hiring and budget cuts at the DOL in her 23-page letter to Acosta, asking him to respond by March 27.  Senator Warren asks Acosta to detail how he intends to continue the work of investigating and litigating labor law violations under Trump’s proposed 21% cut to the DOL budget. She says

“I am also concerned about how you will respond to President Trump’s plan to cut more than 20% of DOL’s budget-the third biggest cut to any agency after the State Department and the Environmental Protection Agency…These draconian cuts will hobble your ability to run core parts of the agency, including the divisions that investigate and enforce the federal health and safety standards that keep workers safe on the job and the federal wage and hour laws that ensure that workers are paid fairly.”

The cut would bring the DOL budget to its lowest level since the 1970’s, according to the New York Times.

The upshot

It is expected that Acosta will be confirmed, as confirmation only requires a simple majority vote, and the Republicans have 52 seats in the Senate. Democrats and workers’ rights advocates hope to use this confirmation hearing as an opportunity to get some important assurances and commitments from Acosta on the record.

Many workers’ rights groups and other organizations, like the Economic Policy Institute, with its Perkins Project, are poised to pay close attention to what the Department does in the coming years, and to hold the Secretary of Labor accountable for the promises he makes. And as always, Workplace Fairness will continue to maintain free, up-to-date, comprehensive, easy to read information for the public about what their rights are in the workplace, and how to enforce them. These efforts will become even more critical in the days ahead as government agencies are forced to eliminate staff positions and enforcement activities, and potentially lessen their commitment to protecting the rights of workers.

SHANNON RUSZ has been associated with Workplace Fairness since 2009. Since 2014 she has worked as Content Manager for Workplacefairness.org, and most recently has taken on the role of Acting Executive Director of Workplace Fairness. Shannon is an attorney practicing in the Annapolis, Maryland area. She received her undergraduate degree from Virginia Commonwealth University and her Law degree from The George Washington University Law School.

Workplace Fairness Applauds the Withdrawal of Andrew Puzder’s Nomination for Labor Secretary

Wednesday, February 15th, 2017

Along with hundreds of workers rights organizations and millions of workers (whether they realized it or not!) Workplace Fairness is applauding the withdrawal this afternoon of Andrew Puzder’s nomination as Secretary of Labor. Puzder announced the following this afternoon (February 15):

“After careful consideration and discussions with my family, I am withdrawing my nomination for Secretary of Labor. I am honored to have been considered by President Donald Trump to lead the Department of Labor and put America’s workers and businesses back on a path to sustainable prosperity. I want thank President Trump for his nomination. I also thank my family and my many supporters—employees, businesses, friends and people who have voiced their praise and hopeful optimism for the policies and new thinking I would have brought to America as Secretary of Labor. While I won’t be serving in the administration, I fully support the President and his highly qualified team.”

Puzder could not have been a worse fit for the position he aspired to hold, as throughout his career, he has made his hostility to pro-worker policies abundantly clear. We can all (at least temporarily, until we see the next nominee) breathe a sigh of relief that Puzder will not be making policy decisions at the Department of Labor which will roll back workplace protections and risk workers’ lives. This stunning defeat would not have been possible but for all the working people around the country who banded together and said NO! to someone who was clearly unfit for the job.

Puzder’s withdrawal comes on the eve of his planned February 15 confirmation hearing before the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) Committee – the first step toward confirmation that any Labor Secretary nominee will have to face. Once Puzder was nominated, groups familiar with his anti-worker views began assembling a record of his appalling views towards and treatment of his own employees at CKE Restaurants, Inc., the parent company of Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. fast food restaurants. It wasn’t that hard to do.

Even in an industry known for its low pay, overtime violations, sexual harassment, and health and safety concerns, CKE stood out from the rest, with about 60 percent of the U.S. Department of Labor’s investigations into CKE restaurants turned up at least one violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act. Female CKE employees reported sexual harassment at a rate 150% higher than other fast food establishments.

Puzder’s response was to blame his franchisees, yet the amount of control CKE exercised over its franchisees in virtually every respect but employment policies was clearly an effort to avoid legal liability. CKE’s official response:  “We’d like to offer a reminder that CKE Restaurants is nearly 95 percent franchised. Each of these 2,769 franchise stores are run independently and solely responsible for their employees, management and adherence to regulations and labor practices.” It’s very convenient for CKE to disavow all liability when it comes to adhering to employment laws, when it exerts control over virtually every other aspect of its operations.

Puzder has also been very vocal about his contempt for his own workforce and active in an industry group that lobbied hard against legal protection for workers. In 2011, he was quoted, when speaking about the Hardee’s workforce, as saying “you’re hiring the best of the worst. You know, it’s kind of the bottom of the pool. And at Hardee’s it was so bad, we were hiring the worst of the worst and hoping they would stay.” He also once mused about replacing his workers with robots, in a March 2016 interview with Business Insider. Of automated replacements to real live workers, he said “They’re always polite, they always upsell, they never take a vacation, they never show up late, there’s never a slip-and-fall, or an age, sex, or race discrimination case.”

A place I frequent – which employs only real live humans – has a sign with this statement. This seems appropriate for the CKE workforce as well, except that some of these things are very predictable when you violate the law and mistreat workers.

If all that Puzder had working against him was his anti-worker hostility, in all honesty, he probably would have been easily confirmed. After all, Betsy DeVos was just approved as Secretary of Education despite her documented history of hostility to public education and lack of any experience working in the education field. At least Puzder had some experience with labor and employment laws, if only to violate them and constantly decry their enforcement. But between ethics concerns over how he would divest his CKE Restaurant holdings, his recent admission that he had hired an undocumented worker and not paid her payroll taxes while claiming he thought she had a legal working status, and allegations of domestic violence raised by his ex-wife during their divorce and custody proceedings, Puzder’s nomination was ultimately doomed.

Workplace Fairness was part of a coalition of over 100 groups nationwide in opposition to the Puzder nomination. The coalition, led by the National Employment Law Project and Jobs with Justice, ensured that Puzder’s record of extreme hostility to the rights of workers it would be his job to protect came to light and that workers who would be most impacted by Puzder’s views were equipped with the ability to speak out in response.  A rally planned in opposition to Puzder before his planned February 15 hearing is now a victory celebration.

We will have to wait and see who the next Labor Secretary nominee will be. Will it be someone with views as extreme as Puzder’s, but without such a paper trail? Or will an Administration that has claimed to support the rights of working people actually nominate someone who believes in those rights? Time will tell, but today we celebrate a hard-fought victory by workers’ advocates to prevent the #AntiLaborSecretary from taking office.

Paula Brantner recently stepped down as Executive Director of Workplace Fairness after serving in that position since 2008. She served as the Workplace Program Director from 2003 to 2007, writing legal content for the Webby-nominated site www.workplacefairness.org. Paula was the Program Director for Working America, the community affiliate of the AFL-CIO, and the Working America Education Fund, from 2007-2008. From 1997-2001, she was the senior staff attorney at the National Employment Lawyers Association (NELA), heading NELA’s amicus, legislative/policy, and judicial nominations programs. An employment lawyer for over 23 years, Brantner has degrees from UC-Hastings College of the Law and Michigan State University’s James Madison College. She continues to advise the organization on website strategy and content and oversee WF’s 0.1.2.3 Content Licensing for Legal Websites program through her business PB Work Solutions, LLC.

Trump’s Labor pick hasn’t even had a hearing yet and his confirmation is in serious jeopardy

Wednesday, February 15th, 2017

The fight against President Donald Trump’s pick for secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor, fast food CEO Andy Puzder, is shaping up to be as intense as opposition to Betsy DeVos’ nomination for education secretary. Puzder’s long delayed confirmation hearing is set for Thursday, and a few Republican senators are already signaling they may vote against him.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), Sen. Lisa Murskowski (R-AK), Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), and Johnny Isakson (R-GA) are withholding their support of his nomination. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) made it clear through a 28-page letter with 83 questions for Puzder that she will ensure his confirmation process will be a knock-down, drag-out fight. Other prominent Democrats have spoken out against his record as an employer, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has called on President Trump to withdraw Puzder’s nomination.

DeVos ultimately squeaked through a Senate floor debate, but only after an unprecedented tie-breaking vote from Vice President Mike Pence. For weeks before that vote, thousands of people flooded Senate offices with calls against her nomination, and teachers and their allies protested.

Two Republican senators, Sen. Collins and Sen. Murkowski, who now represent half of the Republican senators withholding support for Puzder, voted against her confirmation. Now that twice as many Republicans have already voiced apprehension regarding Puzder, his chances of being confirmed appear even lower.

In her letter, Warren mentioned his “record of prolific labor law abuses and discrimination suits” and “a sneering contempt for the workers in your stores, and a vehement opposition to the laws you will be charged with enforcing.”

Puzder’s CKE Restaurants, which owns fast food restaurants such as Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr., has been the subject of class action lawsuits over the denial of overtime pay as well as lawsuits accusing the company of discrimination. Workers also allege that they were fired for protesting as part of the Fight for 15 campaign.

ROC United, a restaurant employee advocacy group, released a report last month showing that many of the over 500 workers surveyed experienced sexual harassment and unsafe conditions working at CKE restaurants. Sixty-six percent of female CKE employees said they had experienced sexual harassment at work, compared to 40 percent of women who reported such incidents across the entire industry. Puzder has also opposed a $15 per hour minimum wage.

Puzder’s nomination has also been plagued with reports of domestic abuse against his first wife, Lisa Fierstein. On Tuesday, a Missouri judge will rule on whether to unseal records from Puzder’s 1987 divorce, just two days before the nominee’s confirmation hearing. Republican and Democratic senators have also received a tape from the Oprah Winfrey Network that shows a 1990 episode titled, “High-Class Battered Women,” in which Fierstein appeared to discuss the alleged domestic abuse. Fierstein has since retracted the domestic abuse allegations.

Collins has seen the tape, according to Bloomberg, and said, “I am reviewing the other information that has come to light and I’m sure all of this has been explored thoroughly.”

Like the teachers unions that opposed DeVos, which often work with the Fight for $15 campaign, labor groups also have the power to galvanize opposition to Puzder. Last Thursday, thousands of workers protested against his nomination across the U.S., a spokesman for the Fight for 15 campaign told The New York Times. Some of the protesters demonstrated at Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s locations.

The passionate response to DeVos’ nomination, and eventually confirmation, may also be owed to the broad appeal of protecting public school funding, since plenty of middle class Americans of all political stripes send their kids to public schools or know someone who is a teacher. There is a possibility that a broad swath of Americans would similarly oppose a nominee for labor secretary whose record suggests that he will trample on labor protections.

This blog originally appeared at Thinkprogress.org on February 14, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

Casey Quinlan is an education reporter for ThinkProgress. Previously, she was an editor for U.S. News and World Report. She has covered investing, education crime, LGBT issues, and politics for publications such as the NY Daily News, The Crime Report, The Legislative Gazette, Autostraddle, City Limits, The Atlantic and The Toast.

Workers Say Trump’s Labor Secretary Nominee Is a Habitual Violator of Labor Law

Tuesday, January 17th, 2017

Andrew Puzder, Donald Trump’s nominee for labor secretary, is uniquely unqualified for that job. As secretary, he’d be charged with enforcing health and safety, overtime and other labor laws. But as CEO of CKE Restaurants, the parent company of Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr., he’s made his considerable fortune from violating these very same laws, according to a report by the Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United released this week.

ROC, which advocates for restaurant workers nationwide, surveyed 564 CKE workers, 76 percent of them women. In discussing the results of the survey, it’s important to note that while ROC surveyed a large number of workers, the respondents are people who chose to fill out a survey distributed by a workers’ rights organization, which they learned about through their social media networks. Still, ROC reported “unprecedented” interest in the survey among workers at CKE and their eagerness to be part of the study, and the experiences they reported, are striking reminders that by tapping Puzder, Trump has made clear that his administration will be a dystopian nightmare for U.S. workers.

A recent national survey among non-managerial women working in fast food found that 40 percent of such women have experienced sexual harassment on the job. Under Puzder, the problem could worsen: A whopping 66 percent of female CKE workers ROC surveyed had faced sexual harassment. Harassment came from supervisors, co-workers or—most often—customers, and took the form of sexual comments, groping, unwanted sexual texts and pressure for dates.

CKE is known for its sexist advertising, which depicts women in skimpy bikinis devouring cheeseburgers. And, certainly, imagery contributes to the culture, but when harassment is as pervasive as it appears to be at CKE, there are usually more structural problems at play. Companies in which women are harassed are generally places in which women—indeed, workers in general—are not valued or respected, and in which workers lack any institutional means to stand up for their rights.

In such companies, women are often not paid and promoted fairly. And, as one might expect, nearly one in five of the CKE workers ROC surveyed said he or she had faced discrimination at work, most commonly on the basis of gender, age or race.

Of the CKE employees who participated in the ROC survey, nearly one-third said they did not get meal breaks that are mandated by law; around one-fourth had been illegally forced to work off the clock or had timecards altered; almost one-third had been illegally deprived of overtime pay.

The ROC survey also found widespread health and safety violations. Nearly one-third of those surveyed said they had become sick or injured on the job. Workers described an environment of slippery floors, frequent grease burns and many said they had to do dangerous tasks—like cleaning a hood over a hot char broiler, for instance—without proper protective equipment.

Appointing Puzder as labor secretary is like inviting Tony Soprano to serve as attorney general. Let’s hope this enemy of working people will face humiliation and defeat when his confirmation goes before the Senate. His hearing, originally set for next Tuesday, may now be postponed until February. That delay would give labor—meaning anyone who works for a living—more time to mobilize against him. Let’s get started.

This post originally appeared on inthesetimes.com on January 13, 2017.  Reprinted with permission.

Liza Featherstone is a journalist and author of Selling Women Short: The Landmark Battle for Workers’ Rights at Wal-Mart and False Choices: The Faux Feminism of Hillary Rodham Clinton. 

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