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Trump’s Secretary of Labor Pick Is Reliably Anti-Labor

Eugene Scalia has consistently fought to undermine the very people his department is obligated to protect, and has a long history of defending corporate interests over workers’ rights.

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Department of Labor headquarters -- Eugene Scalia’s new home. (Photo: AgnosticPreachersKid)

Last week President Trump announced, via Twitter, the nomination of Eugene Scalia as the next secretary of labor. Scalia is the son of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

The news follows Alexander Acosta’s resignation in the face of criticism over the way Acosta handled a Florida sex trafficking case against Jeffrey Epstein, when Acosta was a U.S. attorney in 2008.

According to the DOL website, the department’s mission is “To foster, promote, and develop the welfare of the wage earners, job seekers, and retirees of the United States; improve working conditions; advance opportunities for profitable employment; and assure work-related benefits and rights.” Like many Trump cabinet members, Scalia has consistently fought to undermine the very people his department is obligated to protect, and has a long history of defending big finance and corporate interests over workers’ rights.

He had previously worked for the Department of Labor during the Bush administration, but has spent most of his career at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, where he is a partner and a member of its Labor and Employment Practice Group. Over the past decade the firm has lobbied on behalf of Goldman Sachs, Koch Industries and the Embassy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, a contract that the firm terminated weeks after the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi.

As a member of his law firm, Scalia lobbied on behalf of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in 2010 to oppose financial industry regulations under the Dodd-Frank Act, and shut down campaign finance transparency rules proposed by the DISCLOSE Act.

“Eugene Scalia’s nomination to be Secretary of Labor is bad news for whistleblowers,” Washington, D.C. attorney Richard Renner told Capital & Main, calling Scalia “an active and ardent opponent of whistleblower rights.” According to Renner, who took part in a 2011 case involving Scalia, the secretary of labor nominee sought to raise the burden of proof needed for whistleblower actions to be protected under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.

Scalia’s career has also involved arguing against the Department of Labor to help strike down the fiduciary rule that protected the interests of individuals seeking retirement planning services, as well as saving Walmart from spending more on employee health care and challenging an OSHA program designed to improve safety in the nation’s most dangerous workplaces. In 2016, Scalia helped major insurance company MetLife beat back its “too big to fail” designation.

Furthermore, Scalia has ties to the Federalist Society, an influential network of conservative and libertarian legal professionals that includes both Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, Trump’s two Supreme Court appointees. Scalia also attended a gala for the conservative, pro-life Faith and Freedom Coalition earlier this summer.

While a press release from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce praised Trump’s selection, unions and labor advocacy groups are expressing concern. In a statement regarding Scalia, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees president Lee Saunders said, “His record, both in private law practice and as the Labor Department’s top attorney, indicates support for unchecked corporate power and neglect of the welfare of working people.”

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Judy Conti of the National Employment Law Project also questioned Scalia’s suitability for the job. “We’re not surprised that the president is nominating somebody like Eugene Scalia,” Conti said. “This is a guy that has spent his entire career working to preserve and expand corporate employer power. So far things haven’t been as bad at DOL as other agencies, where you see someone like Betsy DeVos or Scott Pruitt trying to destroy those agencies from the inside out. We really worry that someone like Mr. Scalia could do exactly that.”

According to Jessica Martinez, co-executive director of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health, the stakes are high for worker safety when it comes to Department of Labor leadership. “More than 5,000 workers die each year from on-the-job trauma, with fatalities up 11 percent since 2012,” Martinez said in a statement to Capital & Main. At the same time, Martinez said, OSHA inspections have decreased.

Ultimately, labor advocates maintain that the secretary of labor’s allegiance should be with working people. “To carry out the Department of Labor’s mission to protect workers and families, a new secretary must focus on fair wages, fair treatment of workers, and health and safety in the workplace,” said Martinez. The date of Scalia’s confirmation hearing has not been announced.

Robin Urevich contributed to this story.


Copyright Capital & Main

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