Alexander: Goal of Labor Secretary, Congress is to Create Environment for American Workers to Succeed in Rapidly Changing Workplace

Posted on March 22, 2017

Says harmful Obama-era labor regulations have only made it harder for Americans to create, find, or keep good-paying jobs

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We are fortunate today to have a presidential nominee for Labor Secretary who understands how a good-paying job is critical to helping workers realize the American dream for themselves and for their families.” 

 

WASHINGTON, D.C., March 22 – The chairman of the Senate labor committee today said that the Labor Secretary and Congress’s goal is to create an environment for American workers to succeed in a rapidly changing workplace and that harmful Obama-era labor regulations have only made it harder for Americans to create, find, or keep good-paying jobs.

"The issue for workers today is not whether they belong to a union,” Sen. Lamar Alexander said at today’s confirmation hearing for Labor Secretary nominee Alexander Acosta. “It is whether they have the skills to adapt to the changing marketplace and to find and keep a job—to be accurate, to create and keep a job.  My generation found jobs.  This generation is more likely to have to create their own jobs.”

“In a new book, New York Times columnist Tom Friedman … uses the term ‘Great Acceleration’ for all of the technological, social, environmental, and market changes simultaneously sweeping across the globe and argues that we are now ‘living through one of the greatest inflection points in history’ as a result.”

He continued, “Tom Friedman says that probably the most important governance challenge is a great need ‘to develop the learning systems, training systems, management systems, social safety nets, and government regulations that would enable citizens to get the most out of these accelerations and cushion their worst impacts.’ One of the federal government’s chief actors in this drama should be the Secretary of Labor.”

Alexander cited the Obama administration’s overtime, joint employer, persuader, and fiduciary regulations, as well as the Affordable Care Act and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s EEO-1 form, saying, “One rule after another has stacked a big, wet blanket of costs and time-consuming mandates on job creators, causing them to create fewer jobs.”  

He concluded, “We are fortunate today to have a presidential nominee for Labor Secretary who understands how a good-paying job is critical to helping workers realize the American dream for themselves and for their families. After immigrating to Miami from Cuba, Mr. Acosta’s parents worked hard to create more opportunities for their son. Alexander Acosta became the first person in his family to go to college – and from there has had an impressive career. … And Mr. Acosta is off to a good start in this process because he’s already been confirmed by the Senate three times. Mr. Acosta, we welcome you and I look forward to hearing more on your ideas to help create a better environment for more workers in this country.”

Acosta has served as a Republican member of the National Labor Relations Board, as an assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, and as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida. He currently serves as dean of the Florida International University’s law school.

Alexander’s full, prepared remarks are below:

Just 10 years ago—in 2007—Steve Jobs announced that Apple had reinvented the mobile phone.  A micro-blogging company called Twitter gained its own separate platform and started to scale globally. And Amazon released something called Kindle.

That same year, IBM began to build a computer called Watson that within a few years defeated human contestants on the “Jeopardy” TV show.

And in 2007, the cost of sequencing a genome started falling as the biotech industry leveraged the explosion of computing and storage power -- taking the cost of sequencing one person’s genome from $100 million in 2001 to $1,000 in 2015.

In a new book, New York Times columnist Tom Friedman puts his finger on the year 2007 as “the technological inflection point.”

He uses the term “Great Acceleration” for all of the technological, social, environmental, and market changes simultaneously sweeping across the globe and argues that we are now “living through one of the greatest inflection points in history” as a result. 

Add Ball State University’s finding that automation is responsible for the loss of 88% of our manufacturing jobs.

Add globalization. Add social, cultural, climate changes, and terrorism and you get a big mismatch between the change of pace and ability of the average American worker to keep up and fit in the accelerating forces shaping the workplace.

A few weeks ago, after a group of senators listened to a group of scientists talk about advances in artificial intelligence, one senator asked, “Where are we all going to work?”

Tom Friedman says that probably the most important governance challenge is a great need “to develop the learning systems, training systems, management systems, social safety nets, and government regulations that would enable citizens to get the most out of these accelerations and cushion their worst impacts.”

One of the federal government’s chief actors in this drama should be the Secretary of Labor.

In fact, as many have suggested and the House of Representatives has done, the title of the job for which Alexander Acosta has been nominated should be changed to the Secretary of Workforce, not Secretary of Labor. 

Labor union membership in the private economy today is down to less than 7%.

The issue for workers today is not whether they belong to a union.  It is whether they have the skills to adapt to the changing marketplace and to find and keep a job.

To be accurate, to create and keep a job.  My generation found jobs.  This generation is more likely to have to create their own jobs.

In his inaugural address, President Trump said he heard “forgotten men and women” who are struggling to keep up and fit into today’s changing world:

“[F]or too many of our citizens, a different reality exists: mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation…”

Ten days earlier in his farewell address, President Obama said he, too, had heard these same voices:

“[T]oo many families, in inner cities and in rural counties, have been left behind … if we don’t create opportunity for all people, the disaffection and division that has stalled our progress will only sharpen in years to come.…”

What can we do about it?  The most important thing is to work with employers and community colleges and find ways to increase the number of Americans earning post-secondary certificates and two-year degrees or more.    

Georgetown University says that by 2020, 65 percent of the jobs in this country will require some college or more. And at the rate we’re going, Georgetown predicts the United States will lack 5 million workers with an adequate post-secondary education by 2020.

Unfortunately, too many of the federal government’s actions over the last few years have made it harder for American workers to keep up, adjust to the changing world, and create, find, or keep a job.

To begin with, the Obama Administration unleashed a regulatory avalanche that held job creators back from creating jobs.

President Obama’s Department of Labor issued 130 percent more final rules than the previous administration’s labor department.

Overall, the Obama Administration issued an average of 85 major rules – those are rules that may have a $100 million impact on the economy – a year.  President Bush averaged 62 a year, so that is a 37 percent increase.            

Take the Overtime Rule — In my state, its costs would  add hundreds of dollars per student in college tuition and it would force small businesses across the country to reduce the jobs that provide the stability that families need.

Or take the “joint employer rule” that affects franchising and makes it more likely that a parent company will own and operate its stores instead of allowing franchisees to own and operate them.

Then, there’s the fiduciary rule, which is going to make it too expensive for the average worker to obtain investment advice about retirement benefits—again making it harder, not easier, to adjust to the changing world of work.

One rule after another has stacked a big wet blanket of costs and time-consuming mandates on job creators, causing them to create fewer jobs.  

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s EEO-1 form will require employers to provide to the government 20 times as much information as they do today about how they pay workers.

There is the ridiculously complex 108-question FAFSA, the federal aid application form that turns away from college many of the very students who most need to adjust to this changing world.

And the Affordable Care Act, which defined full-time work as only 30 hours, forcing employers to cut their workers' hours or reduce hiring altogether in order to escape the law’s mandate and its unaffordable penalties.

Many of these, like the persuader rule, which chills the ability of employers to retain legal advice during union organizing activities, seemed designed for the purpose of strengthening the membership and power of labor unions. 

We are fortunate today to have a presidential nominee for Labor Secretary who understands how a good-paying job is critical to helping workers realize the American dream for themselves and for their families.

After immigrating to Miami from Cuba, Mr. Acosta’s parents worked hard to create more opportunities for their son.

Alexander Acosta became the first person in his family to go to college – and from there has had an impressive career.

Mr. Acosta has served as a Republican member of the National Labor Relations Board, as an assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, and as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida.

Mr. Acosta’s most recent role is serving as dean of the Florida International University’s law school. The school’s president told the Miami Herald last month, “Alex has a destiny in public service. …He’s a person of integrity, conscientious, thoughtful, he doesn’t overreach.”

And Mr. Acosta is off to a good start in this process because he’s already been confirmed by the Senate three times.

So, Mr. Acosta, we welcome you and I look forward to hearing more on your ideas to help create a better environment for more workers in this country.