Senate confirms Calif. labor secretary Su to DOL's No. 2 spot

The U.S. Capitol is pictured on the opening day of the 112th United States Congress in Washington
  • Julie Su confirmed 50-47 after Republicans, trade groups suggested she was unqualified
  • Su has support of unions and worker advocacy groups

(Reuters) - The U.S. Senate on Tuesday voted to confirm Julie Su, California's labor secretary, as deputy secretary of labor, after Republicans and business groups heavily criticized her record and handling of the state's unemployment insurance system during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Democrat-led Senate voted 50-47 to confirm Su to serve as deputy to former union leader and Boston mayor Marty Walsh, who was confirmed as secretary of labor in March.

Su, at a March confirmation hearing, faced pointed questions from Republican senators about California paying out billions of dollars in fraudulent unemployment claims during the COVID-19 pandemic under her watch.

She told senators state unemployment systems across the country were overwhelmed by the pandemic and all paid out a high number of fraudulent claims, and the more than $10 billion in claims in California only stood out because of the state's sheer size.

On Tuesday, Representative Virginia Foxx, a Republican from North Carolina, said she had doubts that Su was equipped to "promote freedom and opportunity (instead of) coercion and red tape" as the U.S. attempts to recover from the economic fallout of the pandemic.

“Her track record does not suggest that she has what it takes to responsibly execute her duties as Deputy Secretary," Foxx said in a statement. "I have serious concerns that Julie Su will not provide the leadership American workers need to recover and move forward from COVID-19.”

Along with Republicans, conservative and business-backed groups have been critical of various initiatives backed by Su in California. That has included her support for a 2019 state law making it more difficult to classify workers as independent contractors and California's Private Attorney General Act, which allows workers to sue employers on behalf of the state.

But her record has been praised by unions and left-leaning advocacy groups. Liz Shuler, the secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO, in a tweet on Tuesday called Su "a fierce leader who will ensure the @USDOL can deliver on its mission and improve the lives of working people across the nation."

The California Labor Federation in a statement said Su "has never wavered from her commitment to building an economy that works for working people, communities of color and immigrant workers."

Su was appointed secretary of labor and workforce development by California Governor Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, in 2019. She had served for more than seven years as California's labor commissioner, who is responsible for enforcing state wage-and-hour laws.

Before that, she was the litigation director at civil rights group Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Los Angeles and a staff attorney at the Asian Pacific American Legal Center. In 2001, Su was awarded the MacArthur Foundation's "genius grant" for her work on a high-profile case brought on behalf of Thai immigrants who worked in a sweatshop in El Monte, California.

Su graduated from Harvard Law School in 1994 after receiving her bachelor's degree from Stanford University.

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Thomson Reuters

Dan Wiessner (@danwiessner) reports on labor and employment and immigration law, including litigation and policy making. He can be reached at