By David Shepardson and Lisa Baertlein
WASHINGTON/LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Acting Labor Secretary Julie Su’s nomination to officially lead that agency is at risk even after she helped negotiate a crucial contract deal between U.S. West Coast seaport employers and the union representing 22,000 workers this month.
The criticism from Republican opponents in the U.S. Congress is tied to her work as California’s labor commissioner from 2011 through 2018 to classify gig workers as employees. Last week, 33 Republicans urged President Joe Biden to pull her nomination as labor chief, citing her work on that California state law.
Her nomination has been pending for two months since a Senate committee voted along party lines to advance her nomination.
U.S. Representative Kevin Kiley, a California Republican who chairs the Workforce Protections Subcommittee, has opposed Su saying she has “refused” to commit to whether she believes that state law – known as AB 5 – “is a model for the nation.”
The California law is fiercely opposed by gig economy employers such as Uber, Lyft and independent trucking contractors. It is supported by unions and many gig workers because it would guarantee benefits and protections, including a minimum wage. Truckers who want to remain independent say it would saddle them with a flurry of business-related expenses.
The White House is standing by her nomination. Democrats control the Senate 51-49 and her nomination may be hinge on some undecided Democrats.
Senator Bernie Sanders, who chaired Su’s confirmation hearing, said she is “prepared to take on powerful special interests and stand up for the needs of the working class of this country.”
White House Chief of Staff Jeff Zients said in a statement to Reuters that Biden’s decision “to have Julie in the job was instrumental for the hardworking port workers, for management, and for our supply chains.” He said both sides trusted Su completely. “Neither side thought of her as a tool for the other.”
Su told Reuters in her first interview after the June 14 deal covering West Coast seaports that handle roughly 40% of U.S. container import volume that the stakes were high for employers and workers.
“These are workers who helped carry the economy through the worst crisis that we’ve seen, which was COVID,” Su said.
(Reporting by David Shepardson and Lisa Baertlein; Editing by David Gregorio)
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