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Biden Doubles Down on California Blundering With Julie Su Nomination

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
AP Photo/Susan Walsh

President Biden has been California dreamin’ about a Julie Su nomination for secretary of the Department of Labor (DOL) and the one-size-fits-all restrictive labor policies that would likely come with it.


These dreams could soon become a nightmare for workers across the country as Politico recently reported that the Senate HELP Committee is planning for an April 20th confirmation hearing for Su. It hasn’t been officially announced, but the possibility is causing Democrats to circle the wagons and rally support for Su considering that a few of their own  seem hesitant about her nomination.

The most obvious dissenter is Sen. Joe Manchin who is strictly aligning himself with the leadership style of former DOL Secretary Marty Walsh. “I had a Marty Walsh and I’m looking for a(nother) Marty Walsh,” Manchin said, perhaps referring to the stark contrast between Walsh’s trade union ties and Su’s background as a veteran litigator and bureaucrat. In a separate interview, he said his vote for Su last time for Deputy Secretary of Labor “was all predicated on Marty.”  

That’s not exactly the glowing recommendation that Democrats were hoping for.

There are two broad objections to Su that will create problems for her nomination. The first objection is that she has not demonstrated great competence in past jobs at doing the basic things everyone agrees ought to be important. The second objection is that she would pursue California-style policies that would hurt American workers and instead help union leadership.


In California, Su was secretary for the Labor and Workforce Development where she oversaw the Employment Development Department with deals involving unemployment insurance claims. She did not shine in this role, as even members of her own party will point out.

California Democratic Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris of Laguna Beach, for instance, said that Su “has not done a good job at running the Employment Development Department and, as a result, has wasted billions of dollars and, more importantly, caused heartache for millions of Californians.”

A report for the California Business & Industrial Alliance (CBIA) pointed out that a state auditor had “urged EDD to address its mailing system after millions of Social Security Numbers were included in a mailing sent to wrong addresses.” Unfortunately, “Under Su, the EDD did not prioritize addressing the auditor’s recommendation,” and thus when the COVID shutdowns happened, the system was dysfunctional and trust in her leadership was compromised.

Su herself eventually admitted the department was “woefully unprepared” to handle those claims. The price tag for this oversight was massive. It is estimated that fraudulent payments amounted to more than $11 billion. This included more than $1 billion to inmates, including prisoners on death row.


It gets worse. “The state auditor noted that much of this money is untraceable and will not be recouped by the state,” explained CBIA.

While Su was able to sidestep her poor record and join the Department of Labor as deputy secretary, her vision of what labor policy ought to look like could prove a stumbling block to her current nomination.

In California and at the federal level, Su has been quite hostile to people that want to work for themselves. She backed AB5, the bill that threatened to shut much of the state down until the California Legislature created special carve-outs for literally hundreds of industries and non-profits.

That is why both the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors and the International Franchise Association have written to Congress airing reservations about Su’s nomination. Their biggest concerns were her support for job-killing and business-closing state legislation such as the FAST Act and A.B. 5. But her public praising of David Weil’s flawed “fissured workplace” theories was especially worrisome considering the upheaval that businesses would endure across the country, not just in California.

Su would not be wise to echo Weil’s radical ideas. Only a year ago, pro-worker groups rallied against him to lead DOL’s Wage and Hour Division because of his overt hostility toward independent contracting, a major part of the US economy. Three Democratic Senators ended up voting with Republicans against his nomination.


This could be Julie Su’s fate as well. Sen. Mike Braun predicted, “I think she’s going to be in the same boat as David Weil who got derailed.”

Given her past record of mismanagement and her current support for policies that would demonstrably hurt the ability of many American workers to earn a living, Su will have to rely on Biden’s California dreams to get through a closely divided Senate.

Vernuccio is President of Institute for the American Worker. 

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