By DAVID A. COOK
I’ve said time and time again that elections matter, and that union men and women have an obligation to take them seriously. This past week was another reminder why.
Last week, Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta resigned. Some of you may have heard this in the news; some of you may have not. (See related story: Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta resigns.) He didn’t resign to spend more time with his family or because he felt his public service was complete. Acosta resigned amid a flurry of news about his work on a case while he served as a U.S. Attorney in Florida.
The details are messy, troubling and disgusting. But the short version is Acosta appears to have purposefully granted a cushy plea bargain to billionaire Jeffery Epstein, who has been in the news recently following his arrest under charges related to sex trafficking and the sexual abuse of minors.
This is not the time or place to examine Acosta’s role in the Epstein case many years ago or to comb through his entire tenure as Secretary of Labor. However, this is the time to remember that the Secretary of Labor’s role holds enormous power, and not just over unions.
PUT POWER IN THE RIGHT HANDS
The Secretary of Labor also enforces (or fails to enforce) guidelines related to workplace safety standards. The Labor Secretary is responsible for wage and hour standards, unemployment insurance benefits and reemployment services.
The Department of Labor plays a major role in collecting and analyzing economic statistics that drive public policy across the government.
As it relates to unions, the Department has immense power. It plays a major role in whether or not laws favor union workers or try to keep them down. It wields massive authority over things like union representation elections and union workplace rules and regulations.
In short, it is a critical department for working Americans, and its leader is nominated by the President of the United States and approved by the Senate.
APPOINTMENTS OF THE ANTI-UNION TYPE
For a few years now, people who simply do not have the interests of working people at heart have filled the Labor Secretary role.
Acosta was nominated by President Donald Trump, but he was not the first choice.
While some of us may have forgotten, the first choice for this role was a man named Andrew Puzder. Puzder represented a serious threat to hard-working people as he favored greater automation in the workplace, opposed minimum wage increases and sided with major corporations over working class people. Puzder was forced to withdraw his nomination from the Senate when it was revealed that he had illegally employed undocumented workers.
Acosta took his place, and was eventually approved by the Senate. While his tenure as Labor Secretary was a quiet one, we know he was no friend of working people. Acosta did nothing to enforce workplace overtime standards, and he firmly stood with President Trump in support of “Right-to-Work for less” laws.
Acosta’s replacement is Patrick Pizzella — who is currently serving as acting Secretary of Labor — and he is no friend to working people either.
He has already come under scrutiny when he opposed paying workers in the Northern Mariana Islands the federal minimum wage. The Islands are a U.S. commonwealth, and when congress sought bipartisan legislation granting the workers there the same minimum standards of wage guarantees and safety protections that exist in the rest of the United States, Pizzella and his former lobbying firm strongly opposed them.
I don’t have to tell you that opposing basic safety standards and fair wages is in absolute opposition to the goals of the Labor Movement.
ELECT OFFICIALS WHO CARE
Why am I saying all of this? Why talk about Puzder, Acosta, Epstein, and Pizzella?
Because these men are given the ability to wield power over the American worker, while voters don’t consider the true consequences of elections.
Too many union men and women voted for Donald Trump despite his open opposition to their livelihood. He opposed higher wages, supported “Right-to-Work for less” and secured tax cuts for his rich friends instead of for hard-working men and women. Too many union men and women enabled Mitch McConnell and his pals in the Senate who approve of men like Puzder and Acosta.
Elections are hard. We are often voting based on a wide array of issues. But should we always believe someone when they tell us who they are? Time and time again the men and women currently in power have painted a pretty picture of themselves, when in reality, they carry water for their wealthy donors and friends, and they don’t fight for better wages or benefits for working men and women like you.
The next time you have a chance to vote, think about Puzder, Acosta and Pizzella. Ask yourself: who actually cares about me?