Last week, Alexander Acosta was confirmed the next Secretary of Labor by a by a vote of 60 to 38. This appointment proved much less controversial than the previous pick of fast-food chief executive Andrew Puzder. For one thing, Acosta has a depth of related experience, having served as an assistant attorney general in the civil rights division of the Justice Department under President George W. Bush; he also previously served on the National Labor Relations Board. What else do we know about this pick and what do the tea leaves hold for employers and HR managers? We’ve gathered commentary from employment law attorneys to learn what they are thinking.

Acosta on Day One Talks Jobs, Not Regulatory Rollback
Ben Penn, Bloomberg Law

The secretary’s only public remarks at the DOL occurred when he swung by the agency’s Employment and Training Administration, which administers job training funds. “I’m really excited about the workforce training part, because that’s to me so important,” Acosta said. “As I was walking around talking to members, everyone sort of agrees we need to train individuals and that the skills gap is real. That’s not a question; that’s a fact.”

Acosta Confirmed as Secretary of Labor
Lindsay DiSalvo, Corn Maciel Carey

At this point, it is still uncertain how Acosta will fill the role of Secretary of Labor. The Trump Administration and its former Secretary of Labor nominee, Andrew Puzder, who withdrew from consideration back in February, have taken an aggressive stance on deregulation. However, Acosta’s positions on regulation and enforcement have not been as clearly defined, and his prior experience may dictate a more measured approach in managing the opposing priorities he will surely encounter. Additionally, he may not shy away from enforcement due to his background as a prosecutor. We will likely have a better idea of Acosta’s approach soon, however, because there are a number of time sensitive issues that will need his prompt attention.

Senate Confirms Acosta as U.S. Secretary of Labor
HR Daily Advisor Editorial Staff

Acosta addressed several DOL initiatives during his Senate committee confirmation hearing in late March, including new overtime rules currently stuck in judicial limbo, but offered few details about his plans for them. He did, however, call into question the DOL’s authority to set an overtime salary threshold at all. “I think the authority of the secretary to address this is a separate issue from what the correct amount is,” he said.

Employment Lawyers Say Trump’s Pick to Head DOL Is Highly Qualified
Kate McGovern Tornone. HR Daily Advisor

Acosta, who is currently dean of the Florida International University (FIU) College of Law, is well-qualified for the position, experts say. He was nominated to the board by President George W. Bush and later served as assistant attorney general for the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, which means he has a good understanding of how agencies operate, according to David S. Fortney of Fortney & Scott, LLC.

“He brings a lot of day-to-day experience and expertise and I think he has the makings of a very responsible Secretary of Labor,” Fortney said. Acosta has a broad depth of knowledge of the workplace and will be able to navigate the intersection of policy implementation and enforcement thoughtfully and responsibly, Fortney added.

Senate Confirms Alex Acosta for Secretary of Labor
Harold P. Coxson. Ogletree Deakins Nash Smoak & Stewart

While at the NLRB, Acosta participated in more than 125 decisions. He advocated the increased use of rulemaking—rather than administrative decision-making involving individual cases—in order to promote predictability, efficiency, and stability.

DOL Finally Has Its Leading Guy
Brett Young, Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton

Acosta’s impact on employers and the future of the Department of Labor remain to be seen. Perhaps the largest issue facing Mr. Acosta is the Texas federal court’s decision to block the Department of Labor from enforcing new regulations that would have drastically reduced the number of white collar employees who are exempt from overtime.

Photo: US Secretary of Labor R. Alexander Acosta greets staff at the Employment and Training Administration (ETA) at the US Department of Labor after being sworn-in as the 27th Secretary of Labor. Source: US Department of Labor

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