Julie Su continues to advance on her path to secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor, but there may be roadblocks ahead. On Wednesday, members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions moved her nomination out of committee, setting her up for a full Senate vote.
Support, disdain remained along party lines
Echoing the partisan split of last week’s heated hearing, HELP Committee Chair Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., spoke highly of the current deputy secretary — and Ranking Member Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., laid into her.
Highlighting hopes for an increased minimum wage, paid federal family and medical leave and strong overtime rules under Su’s leadership, Sanders said, “Working families have been struggling for the last many decades, while we have massive income and wealth inequality. The working families of this country, in the Labor Department, deserve to have a secretary who’s going to stand up and fight for them.”
Cassidy spent his turn to speak highlighting how Marty Walsh garnered Republican support: He had “unquestionable experience,” Cassidy explained.
“He had worked to develop trust between labor unions and the business community. But the nominee we’re considering today is not in that mold.” Once more, Cassidy criticized the roll out of the ABC independent contractor test in California, where Su was head of labor before joining the federal government.
Cassidy also cast doubt on Su’s ability to lead, citing massive rates of pandemic-era unemployment insurance fraud in California as well as what he views as a “failed” railroad workers strike negotiation — insofar as yes, workers struck a deal, but it was only because Congress came to, in Cassidy’s words, “pick up the pieces.”
Ultimately, Su advanced by a slim margin with 11 aye’s and 10 no’s, with Democrats voting in favor of Su alongside Sanders and Republicans backing Cassidy’s no.
So, what happens next?
A date for Su’s full Senate vote has yet to be made public. A spokesperson for Sanders’ office told HR Dive they weren’t at liberty to disclose the information. A Senate press representative added that the vote likely won’t be for a couple of weeks.
The nominee’s future hangs in the balance with several senators reported as holdouts. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.; Kyrsten Sinema, I-Ariz.; and Jon Tester; D-Mont. could topple the Democratic majority. The latter two senators told reporters Wednesday they met with Su regarding her nomination.
Additionally, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. could be missing from the equation; she has missed dozens of votes due to ongoing health conditions, earning her the title of the “2nd most absent member of the Senate” from ProPublica.
Business leaders, employment lawyers and HR pros dealing with compliance and talent acquisition will have to wait and see what comes of this tug-of-war, fueled by pro- and anti-labor union sentiments. In many ways, the disparate opinions about whether Su is fit for the job mirrors challenges sparked by the Great Resignation, 2022’s union groundswell and the ever-evolving future of work.