Alexander Acosta, US President Donald Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Labor, sat before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on Wednesday for his confirmation hearing, in which he declined to say whether or not he would uphold regulations implemented by the Obama administration, such as the increase in the overtime salary threshold that is currently tied up in court. While Acosta is widely seen as a much more mainstream candidate than Trump’s first choice, fast food executive Andrew Puzder, Democrats on the committee expressed frustration at his refusal to take stronger positions, as well as concerns over his ability to resist political pressure, the Washington Post’s Jonnelle Marte reports:
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) grew frustrated by Acosta’s general responses to how he would treat some regulations. In one tense exchange, she asked him if he would uphold a rule finalized last year that would require brokers working with retirement savers to put their clients’ interests ahead of their own.
But Acosta would not say whether he supports the regulation, noting that he would comply with Trump’s executive order, which asked the Labor Department to reevaluate the rule and determine if it will limit investors’ options or increase litigation.
Acosta did tip his hand to a degree on some hot-button labor issues: For instance, he said it was unfortunate that the overtime eligibility threshold had not been raised in many years but that doubling it all at once, as the Obama administration’s new rule would do, would “create a stress on the system.”
Also, BuzzFeed reporter Cora Lewis observes, he “emphasized the authority of states in setting workplace policy, including controversial rules that allow some workers to be paid at below the minimum wage,” and also took a stance on the definition of “joint employers,” which former President Barack Obama’s Labor Department expanded last year to include franchisors:
Acosta said he supports the older, “traditional” definition over the more recent, expanded one, which threatened to bring disputes over minimum wage and worker safety rules directly to the doorstep of giant fast-food businesses.
The secretary-designate was also asked about how he would address the 21 percent cut Trump is proposing to the Labor Department’s budget in his first federal budget proposal, which targets many federal job training initiatives the White House claims do not produce enough results to justify funding them. He expressed support for apprenticeship programs, which the administration wants to increase. His responses to questions about Trump’s proposed budget cuts revealed that Acosta sees the matter somewhat differently than the president does, the New York Times adds:
Mr. Acosta also seemed to question Mr. Trump’s proposal to cut the Labor Department’s budget by 21 percent, saying he opposed across-the-board cuts as well as targeting specific programs. “The principle that needs to be used to guide the spending is, ‘How successful is the program?’” Mr. Acosta said.
He pledged to consult with local officials before making cuts to the department. He added that he hoped to help Americans “find good jobs, safe jobs.”