Battle over Biden labor nominee Julie Su heats up

By Nandita Bose

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – “Biden nominee Julie Su wants to turn the lights off” reads a billboard in West Virginia; another in Montana warns that Su, U.S. President Joe Biden’s nominee for labor secretary, will turn the state into California; in Arizona, the message is, “Su’s gig could be destroying your gig.”

In addition to these, newspaper and digital advertisements will start appearing with more frequency in these states as her confirmation hearing date set for April 20 approaches. The White House and the administration have been touting Su’s history of fighting for underpaid workers, while industry groups against her policies have begun to aggressively oppose her.

Su, a civil rights lawyer, former California labor commissioner, head of the state’s sprawling labor agency and child of Chinese immigrants, needs at least 50 votes in a Senate where Democrats have a slim 51-49 majority.

Support of all Democrats and Independents is not a given, and several industry officials told Reuters they believe Su will have a tough time getting confirmed.

Industry groups are focusing their campaign on Montana, Arizona and West Virginia, as they worry Su would push nationwide policies that are similar to what she oversaw in California where she supported laws such as the one that classified some gig workers as employees, which some businesses claim impacted their ability to rely on freelancers.

White House spokesperson Emilie Simons said the administration is “currently engaged with a broad coalition of supporters on Julie’s nomination, including elected officials, labor leaders, key stakeholders, and business groups.”

Simons said the White House has received “outspoken support for her nomination since the announcement was made.”

Rachel Tripp, a spokesperson for a coalition of lobby groups representing businesses, freelancers and franchisees – called “Stand Against Su” – which was recently formed to oppose her nomination said they are “working to have senators from across the aisle and from every region understand what’s at stake here.”

Crucial senators in Montana, West Virginia and Arizona, who voted for Su to become deputy Labor Secretary in 2021, are on the fence about her confirmation for the top job. All three senators, two Democrats and one Democrat-turned-independent, are up for reelection in 2024.

Their reluctance to back a woman they previously confirmed signals Biden’s push to rein in corporate power and push higher wages for workers faces stiff opposition in Congress, even with Democratic control of the chamber.

Biden’s nominee to lead the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division failed last year after industry opposition and Democratic defections and his nominee for the Office of Comptroller of the Currency, who called for tougher bank regulation, withdrew in 2021.

When it comes to Su, Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia is undecided, while Jon Tester of Montana is reviewing Su’s record, his spokesperson said. Senator Kirsten Sinema’s aide she never previews her votes.

Billboards, newspaper and digital advertisements are flooding these and other states. Industry groups have written to Biden and lawmakers asking for a review of her record.

“We’re not wanting to see California’s failures spread to other states, and with somebody at the helm who was the chief enforcer of such policies in California,” said Karen Anderson, founder of Freelancers Against AB5, a state law Su championed that extends employee classification status to some gig workers.

The law is tied up in litigation, and it is difficult to assess its economic impact on workers or companies at this time.

Kristin Sharp, chief executive of the Flex Association, a trade group representing rideshare and delivery companies such as Uber and Lyft opposing Su’s nomination, said her group’s goal is to make sure “lawmakers know we need a labor secretary that embraces the opportunities that technology has unleashed for workers.”


The Biden administration is preparing for a tough road to confirmation, the sources said. Large labor unions including the AFL-CIO and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) are crafting plans to defend Su, union officials said.

The AFL-CIO will target Montana, West Virginia, Arizona and Maine, communicating support for Su to its members to get them to contact their state senators. In Maine, unions plan to target senators Angus King and Susan Collins.

King voted to confirm Su in 2021. A spokesperson for Maine’s Republican Senator Susan Collins said she does not support Su’s nomination. She voted no on Su’s deputy secretary nomination in 2021, as did all Republicans.

“We knew from the get go that there was going to be a very aggressive campaign run by corporate special interests against her,” said Steve Smith, deputy Director of Public Affairs for Political and Organizing at the AFL-CIO.

Corporations are attacking Julie because “she’s such a strong advocate for workers and they know that,” Smith said.

(Reporting by Nandita Bose in Washington, Additional reporting by David Morgan and Rick Cowan in Washington; Editing by Heather Timmons and Josie Kao)

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