5 things to know about secretary of Labor nominee Julie Su
Julie Su, President Joe Biden’s nominee to be the next secretary of Labor, faced harsh Republican scrutiny during a hearing on Thursday, and is confronting a narrow path to confirmation.
Su was confirmed to be deputy Labor secretary under then-Secretary Marty Walsh on a party-line vote in 2021, and Republicans have not said they will vote differently this time around.
Here are five things to know about Su:
Biden’s first AAPI cabinet secretary, if confirmed
Su would be the Biden administration’s first AAPI Cabinet secretary, if confirmed, joining fellow AAPI Cabinet members Vice President Kamala Harris, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai and Office of Science and Technology Policy Director Arati Prabhakar.
Su, a daughter of Chinese immigrants, also speaks Mandarin, Spanish and English.
“When he announced my nomination for U.S. Secretary of Labor, the President called me ‘the American Dream,'” Su said during testimony Thursday. “My parents believed in it, I benefited from it, and I want to do my part to make sure it is a reality for workers across the nation.”
Before joining the Department of Labor, Su served in several top spots in California state government, including as labor secretary under Gov. Gavin Newsom.
Su served as the California labor commissioner from 2011 to 2018, then as secretary for the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency from 2019 until 2021.
Prior to that, she worked as a lawyer for low-wage and immigrant workers, including at a legal aid nonprofit in Los Angeles.
Labor case of over 70 enslaved Thai workers
While Su was a lawyer for low-wage and immigrant workers in 1995, she represented more than 70 undocumented Thai garment workers forced to work under sweatshop conditions — a case that gained widespread attention at the time.
Su’s anti-sweatshop work won her international recognition when she was awarded a McArthur Foundation “genius” grant in 2001.
Sweatshop Watch founding
Su co-founded the organization Sweatshop Watch in 1995, which worked to improve working conditions for garment workers in the United States.
Over the past decade, the coalition, in collaboration with the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, has brought cases on behalf of hundreds of low-wage, immigrant and often undocumented women in the clothing industry against major corporations who use sweatshops to manufacture the garments they sell.
Deputy position nomination scrutiny
When Su was confirmed in 2021 to be deputy secretary, she faced scrutiny from Senate Republicans on her leadership of California’s Labor Department.
Republicans focused on Su’s involvement in large-scale unemployment insurance fraud and employee classification legislation that was later partially overturned by California voters.
Su’s record is likely to face even more scrutiny, and she will have to answer for moves made by DOL during Walsh’s tenure. Among those moves will be the Biden administration’s handling of the freight rail labor standoff last year, in which Su played a central role.
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