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Biden picks Boston Mayor Marty Walsh for labor secretary

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President-elect Joe Biden is nominating Boston Mayor Marty Walsh for labor secretary. Walsh’s history with labor goes back to his early 20s, when he joined Laborers’ Union Local 223 in Boston, a union to which his father had long belonged, and one later headed by his uncle and then by Marty himself, who went on to be the head of Boston’s Building and Construction Trades Council before becoming mayor in 2013.

Walsh was seen as a union favorite, with support from AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka as well as the American Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. What he is not is an addition to the diversity of Biden’s Cabinet, as another top contender, California Labor and Workforce Development Agency Secretary Julie Su, would have been. (Su is also a rock star who would have done an amazing job.)

But Harold Meyerson recently made the case that Walsh is also not the your-grandfather’s-union throwback he might appear on the surface to be, coming from the very white, very very male, and comparatively conservative building trades unions. 

Walsh’s “own work in that movement,” Meyerson wrote, “has been to push the trades into the 21st century. As mayor, Walsh prodded the city council to approve his proposal requiring construction companies working on public projects or private projects exceeding 50,000 square feet to have 51 percent of their workers’ hours go to city residents, 40 percent to minorities, and 12 percent to women. He has also pushed the building trades into supporting a host of progressive causes.”

There is something to be said for a labor secretary who is of the white working class but has progressive priorities.

”He’s been at the forefront when it comes to promoting people of color, making sure people of color have a fair shake,” AFSCME’s Lee Saunders told Meyerson. The AFT’s Randi Weingarten also spoke highly of Walsh’s ability to get stuff done, another important qualification.

Will Marty Walsh be the most aggressive and effective labor secretary Biden could have chosen? Eh, probably not. But don’t write him off as just another Irish-American building trades guy.

This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on January 7, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson has been a contributing editor since December 2006. Clawson has been full-time staff since 2011, and is currently assistant managing editor at the Daily Kos.


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Unions disagree over Biden’s Labor secretary pick

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Union leaders are hoping to influence Joe Biden’s pick for Labor secretary — but they’re increasingly at odds over who should get the job.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and some of his organization’s largest affiliate unions are singing the praises of Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, who previously led the city’s Building and Construction Trades Council and could appeal to construction workers who supported President Donald Trump. But other unions in the federation are publicly pushing Rep. Andy Levin, a Michigan Democrat who worked as a labor organizer and ran the state’s job training program before he was elected.

The federation, which spans 56 unions representing over 12 million of the more-than 14 million unionized workers in the U.S., was supposed to discuss the potential Labor secretary pick and a possible endorsement at a meeting of union presidents who serve on its political committee on Friday. But that didn’t happen and another meeting hasn’t been scheduled, according to four people familiar with the conversations.

The split over Walsh and Levin was the reason why, one of the people said. “A number of the presidents were sort of furious at the whole thing,” said the person, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive conversations.

Union leaders have long been expecting to hold sway in a Biden administration, given his support for workers’ right to organize — and the Labor Department will play the leading role in implementing Biden’s sweeping pro-worker agenda, making the role an obvious choice for organized labor to weigh in.Biden met on Monday with Trumka and the heads of Service Employees International Union, United Auto Workers, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and United Food and Commercial Workers.

But the early division over potential candidatescould make it difficult for Biden to choose someone who would win support from all sides of the labor movement. It’s also unclear whether any of the white male candidates whom unions are supporting would appeal to the Biden camp, which is trying to build a diverse Cabinet.

Also in the mix for the position is Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who’s been courting the Biden camp — and, according to CNN, the AFL-CIO — as he pushes himself for the job. California Labor Secretary Julie Su, who is well-regarded by unions in her state, is another contender.

Biden and his team have said they do not expect to make any Cabinet appointments until closer to Thanksgiving, and those close to the transition say announcements for leaders at higher-profile agencies such as the Treasury and State Departments are likely to come before the Labor Department.

Unions will unify behind whomever Biden chooses, Trumka said in an interview.

“Once the nomination is made, everyone will get on the same page,” he said. “Because I have no doubt that the person Joe Biden will name will be an effective friend of workers and do right by working people.”

Still, Trumka and others in the labor movement are trying to put their thumbs on the scale.

The AFL-CIO’s two largest affiliates, the American Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of State and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, threw their weight last week behind Walsh. Trumka, while stopping short of endorsing Walsh, said he would be a “great choice.”

But not everyone has fallen in line: United Auto Workers and Utility Workers Unionof America sent letters to Biden’s transition team Tuesday backing Levin, who serves on the House Education and Labor Committee. National Nurses United and Communications Workers of America have thrown their weight behind Levin as well.

Levin has stronger ties to labor than some of the other names floated, with time spent as an SEIU organizer and more than a decade working for the AFL-CIO. A graduate of Harvard Law School, he also served in the Labor Department during the Clinton administration and as Michigan’s chief workforce officer under former Gov. Jennifer Granholm.

“Levin has both the knowledge and the expertise and the connections, both in the labor movement and in the broader progressive movement, including the environmental movement, to really be effective and a forceful advocate for families,” Economic Policy Institute President Thea Lee, who worked with Levin at the AFL-CIO, told POLITICO.

Levin was elected to represent Michigan in the House in 2018 after his father, longtime congressman Sander Levin, decided against running for reelection. So far, he’s not openly campaigning for the Labor Department job.

“The power behind this, if it’s happening, is not me,” Levin said in an interview. “I’m humbled to have people I’ve worked with shoulder to shoulder for decades saying they’d like for this to happen.”

Walsh, for his part, led Boston’s Building and Construction Trades Council before becoming mayor, credentials that may help a Biden administration draw in workers from the other side of the aisle: 75 percent of construction workers who made political donations gave them to Trump’s presidential campaign.

Walsh and Biden also have a well-documented personal relationship: Not only did Biden speak at the mayor’s 2017 inauguration, but the pair have been spotted together in Walsh’s city at the anniversary of the Marathon bombings, at a Stop & Shop workers rally and even on a dinner date.

“He’s a friend and knows Joe: They’ve worked together on numerous occasions,” Trumka said. “They have the relationship I think is necessary.”

Current and former union officials have raised concerns about revelations of corruption under Walsh’s watch as mayor, including one city employee who pled guilty in September 2019 to accepting a $50,000 bribe. But Trumka was quick to dismiss those: “It’s nonsense,” Trumka said. “It had nothing to do with him.”

Walsh, for his part, has stayed tight-lipped.

“I’m excited about what a Biden-Harris administration means for Boston,” he said in a statement. “While it’s an honor to be mentioned among the many highly qualified individuals being considered for a role in the Biden Administration, I am focused on my job as mayor of the City of Boston.”

This article originally appeared at Politico on November 16, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Megan Cassella is a trade reporter for POLITICO Pro. Before joining the trade team in June 2016, Megan worked for Reuters based out of Washington, covering the economy, domestic politics and the 2016 presidential campaign. It was in that role that she first began covering trade, including Donald Trump’s rise as the populist candidate vowing to renegotiate NAFTA and Hillary Clinton’s careful sidestep of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

A D.C.-area native, Megan headed south for a few years to earn her bachelor’s degree in business journalism and international politics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Now settled back inside the Beltway, Megan’s on the hunt for the city’s best Carolina BBQ — and still rooting for the Heels.


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Bernie Sanders Is Actively Running for Labor Secretary

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Sen. Bernie Sanders (I?Vt.) is active­ly reach­ing out to allies in a bid to build sup­port for being picked as Sec­re­tary of Labor in the Biden admin­is­tra­tion, accord­ing to a Wash­ing­ton source who spoke to Sanders directly. 

Sanders’ inter­est in the posi­tion was report­ed by Politi­co in Octo­ber, pri­or to Biden’s vic­to­ry in the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. At the time, Sanders said he was focused sole­ly on the elec­tion ahead. Last week, Axios report­ed that Biden’s team was ?“con­sid­er­ing an infor­mal ban on nam­ing Demo­c­ra­t­ic U.S. sen­a­tors to the Cab­i­net if he wins,” which would pre­clude Sanders from being selected. 

If that is the case, Sanders him­self is not let­ting it slow him down. This week, he has already begun mak­ing calls to allies in pol­i­tics and the labor world, say­ing that he wants to make a run at the posi­tion of Labor Secretary. 

Phil Scott, the Repub­li­can gov­er­nor of Ver­mont, said last month that he would appoint a replace­ment who would cau­cus with Democ­rats should Sanders leave the Sen­ate to join the Biden admin­is­tra­tion, a move that means Democ­rats would not be at risk of los­ing a valu­able Sen­ate vote. Still, the con­ven­tion­al wis­dom is that Biden’s abil­i­ty to get very pro­gres­sive cab­i­net sec­re­taries like Sanders con­firmed hinges on the Democ­rats tak­ing con­trol of the Sen­ate?—?an uncer­tain propo­si­tion that would require them win­ning two runoff elec­tions in Georgia. 

Oth­er names float­ed recent­ly as pos­si­bil­i­ties for Biden’s Labor Sec­re­tary include for­mer Cal­i­for­nia Labor com­mis­sion­er Julie Su, AFL-CIO econ­o­mist Bill Sprig­gs, and Michi­gan con­gress­man Andy Levin?—?him­self a for­mer AFL-CIO offi­cial. Major unions have not come for­ward with for­mal endorse­ments, but all of the can­di­dates have their back­ers inside orga­nized labor. (Levin has already received the pub­lic sup­port of Chris Shel­ton, the head of the Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Work­ers of Amer­i­ca.) Though Biden’s record is not as pro­gres­sive on labor issues as Sanders, he ran as a vocal ally of unions, and his choice for Labor Sec­re­tary will be expect­ed to have strong pro-union bona fides. 

The news that Sanders is still try­ing for the posi­tion is sure to ener­gize pro­gres­sives who believe that they are owed sig­nif­i­cant rewards for their sup­port of Biden dur­ing the cam­paign. After Biden won the Demo­c­ra­t­ic pri­ma­ry, he formed a task force with sup­port­ers of both him and Sanders, which issued a set of rec­om­men­da­tions wide­ly seen as a tool to pull Biden to the left. Hav­ing Bernie Sanders as Labor Sec­re­tary would give him an inside perch from which to launch efforts to put those rec­om­men­da­tions into prac­tice inside the administration. 

Today, Biden’s tran­si­tion team announced the mem­bers of its Agency Review teams, which are tasked with prepar­ing each fed­er­al agency for the new admin­is­tra­tion. Among the 23 mem­bers assigned to review the Depart­ment of Labor is Josh Orton, a senior advi­sor to Bernie Sanders. Orton declined to com­ment on Sanders’ pur­suit of the agency’s top job. A spokesper­son for Sanders’ office also declined to comment.

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on November 10, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Hamilton Nolan is a labor reporter for In These Times. He has spent the past decade writ­ing about labor and pol­i­tics for Gawk­er, Splin­ter, The Guardian, and else­where. You can reach him at [email protected]


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Bernie Sanders makes a play for Biden Labor secretary

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Sen. Bernie Sanders is hoping to be a part of Joe Biden’s potential administration and has expressed a particular interest in becoming Labor secretary, two people familiar with the conversations tell POLITICO.

“I can confirm he’s trying to figure out how to land that role or something like it,” said one person close to the Vermont senator. “He, personally, does have an interest in it.”

Sanders on Wednesday declined to confirm or deny that he’s putting his name forward for the position.

“Right now I am focused on seeing that Biden is elected president,” he told POLITICO. “That’s what my main focus is.”

Former Sanders campaign manager Faiz Shakir said Sanders has not talked directly with anyone on the Biden campaign about a future role, but plans to push Biden, his former Senate colleague, to “include progressive voices” in both the transition and in a potential new administration.

Yet two other people close to Sanders, including one former aide, said the senator has expressed interest in being in the administration, should Biden win in November. Sanders has been making his push for the top job at the Labor Department in part by reaching out to allies on the transition team, one person familiar with the process said.

When asked about Sanders’ potential role, a spokesperson for Biden’s transition team repeated the transition’s stock line: that they are “not making any personnel decisions pre-election.”

Since ending his second bid for the Democratic nomination earlier this year, Sanders has thrown his support behind Biden, hitting the campaign trail for him in Michigan and New Hampshire, collaborating with him to create “unity task forces” to make recommendations on everything from health care to climate change, and taking the stage at the Democratic National Convention to urge progressives to back the former vice president.

“He’s 100 percent in Joe Biden’s court,” said Shakir. “We’ve had a good working relationship with the Biden team and I expect we’ll maintain that all the way through.”

Through this collaboration, Shakir said, Sanders has been able to influence both policy and personnel discussions underway among Biden transition’s staff.

“It would be great to have a unity government that takes into account that progressives are a pretty healthy portion of the electorate,” he said. “Heeding that would be good, but if Joe Biden wins, he rightly has a mandate to move in whatever direction he chooses.”

The news of Sanders’ interest in the job is certain to cheer the Democratic left, which has been pushing for progressives to take senior roles in a potential Biden administration.

“He’d be terrific,” said Robert Reich, a former Labor secretary in the Clinton administration.

Having Sanders in a senior post could also help balance out any consternation over more moderate picks — or even a Republican — that Biden’s team is already considering for other spots in the administration.

Sanders could find support from the labor movement as well, where union officials expect to have some influence over Biden’s pick to lead the DOL.

The Vermont senator — who throughout his decadeslong career has called for laws to raise the minimum wage and make it easier for workers to organize — won significant support from local unions and rank-and-file members in the 2016 Democratic primary race, even as most major national unions endorsed his rival Hillary Clinton.

In 2020, many major unions endorsed Sanders’ signature “Medicare for All” proposal — which would replace private insurance with a national single-payer system — saying the policy would help workers focus their bargaining power on wages and working conditions, rather than health benefits. When some unions came out against the policy, saying they didn’t trust the new government insurance program to offer as robust benefits as the private plans they secured through negotiations, Sanders added a provision empowering the National Labor Relations Board to make sure employers reinvested what they would save on health insurance in workers’ pay and other benefits.

“Obviously, he’s earned a lot of trust from working people across the country over the past many years,” one union official said.

The official added that joining a Biden administration could help the 79-year-old Sanders craft a legacy — “being able to help rebuild the economy in a way that works for working Americans after this pandemic.”

One person close to Sanders agreed that Sanders sees an opportunity to achieve long-held policy goals for the working class under Biden, adding: “He really does believe Biden wants to be a Roosevelt-like president.”

The Democratic presidential nominee has made labor a priority issue throughout his presidential campaign, emphasizing the need to strengthen and expand the right to join a union and rebuild America’s middle class. It’s an area where he’s fairly progressive and generally aligned with Sanders, who pledged as a presidential candidate to double union membership if elected.

Still, it could be an uphill battle for Sanders to secure the nomination at Labor or any other agency, in part because Vermont Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican, would be able to appoint a temporary successor to his Senate seat.

Unlike governors in other states, who get to appoint successors to carry out the rest of the term, Scott would be required under Vermont law to hold a special election within six months of the seat becoming vacant. But even allowing Scott the opportunity to fill Sanders’ seat with a GOP lawmaker in the short term could potentially affect control of the Senate, depending on the results of November’s election.

Others see Sanders’ stubborn independence as a potential liability.

“Because of how he operates and works with other people, there’s a zero chance” of him getting tapped for the job, one person close to Sanders said. “He’s a Lone Ranger, to a fault.”

Other names that have been floated for Labor secretary in a Biden administration include Bill Spriggs, chief economist at the AFL-CIO and a Howard University economics professor; Sharon Block, a veteran of the DOL and Obama White House who is now executive director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard University; Rep. Andy Levin (D-Mich.), a former union organizer and leader of Michigan’s Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth; and Seth Harris, the former deputy secretary of Labor in the Obama administration.

There has also been some discussion of Biden looking to appoint a union official to his Cabinet, possibly atop the DOL or the Department of Education.

This article originally appeared at Politico on October 22, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Megan Cassella is a trade reporter for POLITICO Pro. Before joining the trade team in June 2016, Megan worked for Reuters based out of Washington, covering the economy, domestic politics and the 2016 presidential campaign. It was in that role that she first began covering trade, including Donald Trump’s rise as the populist candidate vowing to renegotiate NAFTA and Hillary Clinton’s careful sidestep of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

A D.C.-area native, Megan headed south for a few years to earn her bachelor’s degree in business journalism and international politics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Now settled back inside the Beltway, Megan’s on the hunt for the city’s best Carolina BBQ — and still rooting for the Heels.


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Labor Secretary Scalia Wrongly Rejects Federal Role in Enforcing Unemployment Rights of Workers Who Refuse Unsafe Work

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The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the structural challenges that have plagued the nation’s unemployment insurance (UI) system for decades. Reduced federal funding starved the program of the resources needed to upgrade its antiquated IT infrastructure, causing state systems to slow to a crawl and crash amid the unprecedented volume of claims over the last three months. After the Great Recession, many states slashed UI to the point where only one in four unemployed workers (27 percent, a record low) received UI last year. With the nation’s unemployment rate now well above the highest levels reached during the last recession, and far higher still for Black and Latinx and other workers of color, the stakes are greater than ever to achieve lasting reform of the UI program.

COVID-19 is having an especially devastating impact on communities of color, disproportionately claiming the lives of Black, Latinx, and Indigenous people at rates far higher than for white people, and causing far more layoffs of those employed in the service sector and other jobs that cannot be done from home and that do not offer paid sick leave or other benefits. According to a recent New York Times survey, Black workers are twice as likely as white workers to report losing their jobs because of the crisis. A recent Somos survey of Latinx families found that 35 percent reported losing their jobs in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, while 46 percent reported taking a pay cut. As a result, Black, Latinx, and Indigenous workers will likely be required by their employers to return to work at higher rates than white workers, while having far less financial security to exercise their right to refuse an offer of work if it poses a serious health and safety threat due to COVID-19.

The current economic crisis offers a unique opportunity to collectively reflect on the vital role of the UI program, its compelling history, and the need to continue expanding its reach. Born out of the New Deal, the federal-state UI program was created by the Social Security Act of 1935, which was championed by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Frances Perkins, the nation’s first woman Cabinet member and the first female U.S. labor secretary. For all its historical significance, however, it must be acknowledged that the New Deal shamefully excluded from its protections the country’s domestic and agricultural workers, who were predominantly Black women and workers of color. As the U.S. confronts the current crisis, policymakers must ensure that as many workers who need it can access the help of the UI program.

A Legal Right to Refuse Dangerous Work

As more states move to reopen their economies, millions of workers who were forced out of work and have been receiving unemployment insurance are now being called back to work. Many, however, are justifiably concerned about returning to work in unsafe conditions that could expose them, their families, and the broader public to COVID-19. Were it not for a key provision of the federal UI law, today’s unemployed workers would be left without any viable recourse to refuse unsafe work.

Specifically, for workers receiving regular state UI, the federal “prevailing conditions of work” provision governs “work rules, including health and safety rules” (emphasis added) and situations where there has been an intervening change in the conditions of work, such as COVID-19. In fact, the “prevailing conditions of work” statute was the only standard relating to benefits rights included in the Social Security Act. It was also key to creation of the federal-state UI system because it provided assurance to the labor movement against the possibility that the compulsory nature of UI “might be used to break unions or weaken labor standards.” Absent this provision, which also allows workers to reject a position that is vacant due to a labor dispute, workers would be disqualified from receiving UI for refusing work that degrades the labor standards in their community.

What’s needed is strong enforcement of the federal law. Unfortunately, that enforcement has been conspicuously lacking. In fact, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) recently issued guidance that “strongly encourages” state UI agencies to push employers to report workers who fail to return to work—so that the workers can be disqualified from further receiving UI. In separate letters sent to U.S. Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia—one signed by more than 200 organizations and another signed by 22 U.S. Senators—supporters of workers’ rights urged the DOL to honor and enforce this critical provision of federal UI law that applies to workers who are confronted with health and safety concerns when called back to work in the context of COVID-19.

But when questioned repeatedly by Democrats at a recent hearing of the Senate Finance Committee, Secretary Scalia “abdicat[ed] his responsibility to keep workers safe by not providing guidance to states about when workers can turn down jobs in unsafe conditions and continue to receive unemployment benefits,” according to the ranking member, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR). After failing to respond in writing to the letters referenced above, Secretary Scalia passed the buck in his testimony, claiming that it’s a matter for the states to regulate, not the federal government (“The requirement is that it be suitable work—suitable work has to be safe. And so the states are to judge that.”). Secretary Scalia’s testimony, however, flies in the face of the history of the Social Security Act, which sets the federal floor for the states to follow in order to maintain labor standards for all workers. This was also the intent behind the Fair Labor Standards Act and other federal labor laws passed in response to the Great Depression.

To their credit, several states have recently clarified how their “suitable work” laws apply to further protect workers receiving unemployment insurance from being forced to accept unsafe work. In Colorado, for example, the governor issued an executive orderrequiring the state UI agency to issue new COVID-19 guidelines. While Colorado employers have reported that more than 1,000 workers have not returned to work when recalled, 85 percent were allowed to continue receiving UI mostly because they or a household member were considered immunocompromised, or because adequate child care was not available, limiting the worker’s ability to return to work. Similarly, in North Carolina, the state UI agency issued a clear and transparent policy incorporating the COVID-19 workplace guidelinesissued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, while also extending the protections to workers who are caring for children or vulnerable household members.

While the UI program has been a convenient target for critics who attack it as out of touch with the current realities of work and the economy, today’s COVID-19 crisis provides a vivid reminder that the core features of the program are as timely and relevant now as they were when they were conceived and fought for 85 years ago. However, the program must continue to evolve, to expand to include all workers, and the DOL must fully enforce the federal UI laws during this unprecedented health and economic crisis. True to the Social Security Act’s mission, it’s also time to pass federal legislation proposed by Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) and others that would reverse the decades of weakening the UI program and restore the nation’s commitment to UI as the “first line of defense” against economic hardship and a key to a robust recovery.

This blog originally appeared at NELP on June 23, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Maurice Emsellem joined NELP in 1991, after working for the Legal Aid Society in New York City. At NELP, Maurice has worked on collaborations with organizers and advocates that have successfully modernized state unemployment insurance programs, created employment protections for workfare workers, and reduced unfair barriers to employment of people with criminal records in state laws and in city hiring practices. He has testified before Congress and numerous state legislatures, promoting innovative policy reforms. He was a Soros Justice Senior Fellow in 2004 and a Stanford Public Interest Law Mentor in 2003.


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Trump’s New Labor Pick Eugene Scalia Will Be a Catastrophe For Workers Rights

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Image result for heidi shierholzWorking women and men need and deserve a Secretary of Laborsomebody who will look out for their interests, protect them from unscrupulous employers, set strong health and safety standards, and

safeguard their retirement security. Unfortunately, corporate lawyer Eugene Scalia, the man named by Image result for Lynn RhinehartPresident Trump to be the next Secretary of Labor, is not that person.

Scalia, a graduate of the University of Chicago Law School, is a partner at the Washington, D.C.-based law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, where he specializes in labor and employment law and administrative law. He Image result for Celine McNicholasis an active participant in the activities of the Federalist Society—a right-wing legal group. Scalia was nominated in 2001 by President George W. Bush to be Solicitor of Labor, but his nomination was blocked because of opposition over his extreme views against worker health and safety protections. Bush circumvented the Senate and installed Scalia as Solicitor through a recess appointment. Scalia returned to his law firm at the beginning of 2003.

Scalia has built his career representing corporations, financial institutions, and other business organizations—and fighting worker protections like health and safety regulations, retirement security, and collective bargaining rights. Scalia’s reputation as the go-to lawyer for corporations wanting to avoid worker and consumer protections is so notorious that a headline in a Bloomberg Businessweek profile on Scalia read, “Suing the Government? Call Scalia.” Here are just a few examples of cases where Scalia, on behalf of corporations and trade associations, has attacked worker and consumer protections:

Worker Health and Safety

Scalia led the fight on behalf of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce against regulations to protect workers from injuries caused by unsafe workplace design—known as ergonomics rules. According to Labor Department experts, the rules would have prevented 600,000 injuries a year. Scalia ridiculed the extensive science underlying the rules as “junk science par excellence” and “quackery,” and suggested that unions supported the rules as a ploy to increase membership. The rules were adopted by the Labor Department in 2000 but were overturned by a Republican Congress after Bush was elected president in 2000.

Fighting ergonomic protections is where Scalia made his mark, but his attacks on worker health and safety protections did not stop there. On behalf of United Parcel Service (UPS), Scalia opposed rules that would have required employers, and not individual workers, to pay for protective equipment that was needed to keep them safe on the job. And he represented SeaWorld when it unsuccessfully tried to fight off an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) citation and fine for failing to protect Dawn Brancheau, a trainer at SeaWorld who was killed on the job by a killer whale.

Retirement Security

Eugene Scalia led the legal work attacking the Department of Labor’s fiduciary rule, which safeguarded workers’ retirement security by ensuring that investment advisers are acting in the best interest of workers and do not have a conflict of interest. The rule would have outlawed common practices such as financial advisers steering retirement savers toward investments that provide a good commission, but a lower rate of return. The Department of Labor estimated that conflicted investment advice costs workers $17 billion a year. Scalia attacked the rules on behalf of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business interests, and persuaded a federal court to throw them out, leaving workers vulnerable once again to conflicted advice on their retirement investments.

Health Care

In 2006, the Maryland legislature passed a law requiring large corporations to spend 8 percent of payroll on either providing private health insurance or paying into the state’s Medicaid fund. The legislature adopted the law to ensure that large corporations like Walmart were paying their fair share of health care costs for their 16,000 Maryland employees, after studies in other states showed large numbers of Walmart workers on publicly funded health care because of the low wages paid by Walmart. On behalf of Walmart and other business interests, Scalia got the law struck down.

Collective Bargaining Rights

Scalia represented the Boeing Corporation when it was charged by the National Labor Relations Board with illegally transferring work to South Carolina from its unionized plant outside Seattle, Washington in retaliation for workers at the Washington plant exercising their rights under federal labor law, and specifically their right to strike. Boeing and Republicans in Congress embarked on a scorched-earth campaign against the NLRB complaint, holding an oversight hearing in South Carolina and subpoenaing the NLRB’s Acting General Counsel to appear, and introducing legislation to overturn the NLRB complaint even though it had not yet been adjudicated. Boeing eventually settled the complaint in connection with collective bargaining negotiations with the Machinists Union.

Consumer Protections

On behalf of financial institutions and corporations, Scalia has attacked numerous pieces of the Dodd-Frank Act, that was enacted to protect consumers against Wall Street’s power. Scalia challenged the Securities and Exchange Commission’s “proxy access” rule that would have given large shareholders a chance to put alternative candidates forward for a corporation’s board of directors through the corporation’s proxy voting materials. On behalf of business groups, Scalia succeeded in getting the rule overturned, thus denying unions and other institutional shareholders access to the proxy system to inform shareholders about candidates.

Workers with Disabilities

Workers at United Parcel Service who were returning to work following medical leave for on-the-job injuries sued UPS, alleging that the company had illegally failed to provide reasonable accommodations for their disabilities. Workers successfully won certification of a national class of similarly situated workers to pursue their claims, but Scalia, on behalf of UPS, got the class certification reversed on appeal.

Wage Security

Dealers in a Las Vegas casino sued their employer after the employer instituted a new rule requiring the dealers to share their tips with their supervisors. Scalia got the lawsuit thrown out, arguing that the dealers did not have a right to sue for their wages—that their only remedy was through the state commissioner of labor.

Defending Corporations Against Sexual Harassment Charges

Scalia represented the giant bank HSBC when it was sued for retaliating against an employee who reported sexual harassment of some of his co-workers by a manager. According to published reports, Scalia’s questioning of one of the sexual harassment victims was so aggressive that it brought the victim to tears.

Working people do not need a deregulatory wrecking ball as Secretary of Labor. They need somebody who will stand up for strong worker protection rules and aggressive enforcement of them. Unfortunately, the Trump administration seems determined to push through its deregulatory agenda, tearing down worker and consumer protections at the behest of large corporations. Former Secretary of Labor Alex Acosta reportedly lost favor with the Trump White House because he moved too slowly on reversing worker protections issued during the Obama Administration. Given his history of attacking worker and consumer protections at the behest of big business, there is plenty of reason to worry that Eugene Scalia will drive the deregulatory train, to the detriment of working women and men.

Scalia will have a confirmation hearing when the Senate returns in September. It is essential that Senators press Scalia for his views on the role of government regulation—and the role of the Department of Labor—in protecting working women and men. Senators should ask him to identify worker protections that he would promote, and whether there are cases he has been involved in on behalf of working people, not corporations. Senators should discourage Scalia from further weakening worker protections adopted during the Obama administration. These rules were adopted after extensive public input and are supported by comprehensive evidence demonstrating their value and importance to working people. They should not be weakened or overturned simply because anti-regulatory ideologues want it.

At the end of the day, Scalia’s answers to these questions are unlikely to persuade skeptics that he is the right man for the job, because words at a hearing cannot overcome a long career of attacking worker protections on behalf of corporations. But Scalia should be required to state on the record what his intentions are as Secretary of Labor and what he plans to do to protect working people, and, if confirmed, he must be held accountable.

This article was originally published at In These Times on September 24, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Heidi Shierholz is Senior Economist and Director of Policy at the Economic Policy Institute. From 2014 to 2017, she served the Obama administration as chief economist at the Department of
Labor.

About the Author: Lynn Rhinehart was General Counsel of the AFL-CIO from 2009 until her retirement in 2018.

Ms. Rhinehart joined the legal staff at the AFL-CIO as an Associate General Counsel in 1996.  She graduated magna cum laude from the Georgetown University Law Center in 1994.  Following graduation, she clerked for two years for the Honorable Joyce Hens Green of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.  Ms. Rhinehart is a member of the District of Columbia bar.  From 1987-1990, Ms. Rhinehart worked as a professional staff member for the Senate Subcommittee on Labor, chaired by Senator Howard Metzenbaum (D-OH).  Ms. Rhinehart is the Executive Director of the Lawyers Coordinating Committee (LCC), a national organization of 2,000 union-side labor lawyers in law firms and legal departments.  She serves on the Board of Directors of the Peggy Browning Fund and the National Employment Law Project.

About the Author: Celine McNicholas is EPI’s director of government affairs and labor counsel. An attorney, her current areas of work include a wide range of workers’ rights issues, including labor and employment law, collective bargaining, and union organizing. She was a core member of EPI’s Perkins Project on Worker Rights and Wages Policy Watch, an online resource that tracked federal actions affecting working people and the economy during the first year of the Trump administration. McNicholas continues to monitor and analyze the Trump administration’s labor and employment policies.


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Scalia’s challenge: Fiery old writings in a new era of #MeToo

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Ian Kullgren March 9, 2018. (M. Scott Mahaskey/Politico)

Two decades before being nominated as President Donald Trump’s Labor secretary, Eugene Scalia was at war with the lion of the Senate.

In 2001, Sen. Ted Kennedy, the Democratic chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, expressed skepticism of then-President George W. Bush’s decision to nominate Scalia as the Labor Department’s top legal official. In his opening statement at Scalia’s confirmation hearing, Kennedy criticized a 1998 essay in which Scalia said that a form of workplace sexual harassment known as quid pro quo “should be eliminated as a functional category of discrimination” under the law.

But Scalia had a formidable ally: Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Supreme Court justice and close friend of fellow Justice Antonin Scalia, Eugene Scalia’s father. In a letter to the committee, Ginsburg said the younger Scalia’s essay was “written with refreshing clarity and style. It is informative, thought-provoking, and altogether a treat to read.”

“She thought very highly of him. Ruth appreciates good lawyering,” Bill Kilberg, a partner at Gibson Dunn who considers both Scalia and Ginsburg close friends, said in a phone interview.

Scalia’s strongly worded essay is among key pieces of his record set to resurface as he faces confirmation in a #MeToo world. His views aired in that hearing 18 years ago were just a small piece of a career-long commitment to conservative legal theory and a penchant for rhetorical flair that echoes his father — but also present a potential liability in the Senate, which is more discerning toward sexual harassment issues than it was two decades ago.

“The Senate’s changed dramatically in the years since that confirmation hearing occurred,” said Jim Manley, Kennedy’s press secretary at the time and later a senior strategist for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. “What may not necessarily be a big deal then could be a big deal this time around. The people have changed and the issues have changed over the years, and he’s going to get some scrutiny on this.”

Scalia has represented a range of corporate clients in complaints related to workplace sexual harassment. As recently as 2015, he briefly worked for the global bank HSBC in a case involving current and former employees who accused a senior executive of repeated and unwanted sexual advances. Trump announced Scalia’s nomination last Thursday — a week after the ouster of Alex Acosta, who resigned amid scrutiny over his role in brokering a 2008 plea deal with wealthy sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, arrested in New Jersey earlier this month on new charges of sex trafficking.

Some liberal groups have already seized on Scalia’s prior writings, arguing they should disqualify him from serving in Trump’s cabinet. Allied Progress director Derek Martin said Scalia “may be a gifted legal mind, but his moral compass clearly needs some calibration.”

“The Senate should reject this nominee and demand a Labor secretary who will look out for all Americans in the workplace, not just the ones that sign the checks,” Martin said.

Scalia’s nomination was quickly celebrated by conservatives who see him as a warrior against regulations and a defender of business freedom.

“The confirmation process has gotten so silly that people will make something out of the most ridiculous things and attempt to block a nominee, but I will tell you that I know Gene Scalia would never tolerate sexual harassment in the workplace,” added Helgi Walker, a longtime colleague of Scalia’s at Gibson Dunn.

Scalia was narrowly approved by the Senate panel in 2001, despite the controversy stirred by his previous writings on sex discrimination. He was appointed to the position four months later during the Senate’s recess after Democrats, who controlled the upper chamber, refused to hold a confirmation vote.

The 7,000-word opinion piece, which Scalia published in the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, a common resource for conservative legal scholarship, was cited by the Supreme Court in Burlington Industries v. Ellerth, a case that sought to clarify the legal exposure companies face amid instances of sexual harassment. The decision came a little over a year after the justices decided Clinton v. Jones, another landmark case involving former Arkansas state employee Paula Jones’ sexual harassment claim against then-President Bill Clinton.

In the essay, Scalia does not endorse leniency for harassers. But he does argue that quid pro quo harassment, the illegal practice of soliciting sexual favors in return for professional advancement, shouldn’t be distinguished from generalized harassment in the workplace.

“His point was only that employers should be liable and you don’t need a new doctrine to make it liable,” Kilberg said.

Scalia declined to comment on the record. White House spokesperson Judd Deere said his “past experience in the federal government … makes him the right choice to lead the [Labor] department.”

“Eugene Scalia is one of the most experienced and respected labor and employment lawyers in the country, which is why President Trump has expressed his intent to nominate him,” Deere added.

Still, many of the passages in Scalia’s essay — though part of a larger and more complex legal argument — are likely to draw criticism from opponents.

“Saying ‘You’re an incompetent stupid female bitch’ a single time is not actionable environmental harassment,” Scalia wrote in one of his most emphatic lines. “Why should suit lie for saying ‘I don’t have time for you right now, Kim, unless you tell me what you’re wearing,’ a statement that Judge Flaum found to be a quid pro quo proposition in his Jansen opinion?”

Kennedy and his Democratic colleagues accused Scalia of arguing that employers should not be liable when executives or supervisors promise perks and promotions in exchange for sexual favors, or when they threaten adverse employment actions if a subordinate declines to engage in sexual activity.

“[Scalia] has said that employers should not be strictly liable in sexual harassment cases unless they expressly endorse the conduct of the harasser,” Kennedy (D-Mass.) said in his opening statement, according to a transcript of the confirmation hearing. (Kennedy died in 2009.)

To combat the onslaught of criticism from their Democratic colleagues, the panel’s Republican members frequently referred back to Ginsburg’s letter.

“I do not think she would have written that if she thought you were off the world somewhere in your views on that,” then-Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) said of Ginsburg, whom he referred to as “the most ardent defender of women’s rights on the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Scalia ultimately overcame the controversy in 2001 and was approved by the Senate panel 11-10, with Vermont independent Jim Jeffords casting the deciding vote.

When Scalia started his new job, he boasted the essay as one of his top legal writings on the Labor Department website.

Rebecca Rainey contributed to this report.

This article was originally published by Politico on July 12, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Ian Kullgren is a reporter on POLITICO’s employment and immigration team. Before joining POLITICO, he was a reporter for The Oregonian in Portland, Ore. and was part of a team that covered a 41-day standoff with armed militants at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Their efforts earned the Associated Press Media Editors grand prize for news reporting in 2017. His real beat was politics, though, and he spent most his time at the state capitol covering the governor and state legislature.

About the Author: Gabby Orr is a White House reporter for POLITICO. She previously covered Donald Trump’s ascension to power for the Washington Examiner, from the day he announced his campaign to his transition to the White House. She spent one month in 2016 embedded in New Hampshire, where she covered several Republican candidates prior to the state’s first-in-the-nation primary. Orr has also worked for The New York Post and Fox News’ digital platform. Originally from Sonoma, Calif., she graduated from George Washington University in 2015 with a degree in political science.


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Trump nominates mini-Scalia as labor secretary, this week in the war on workers

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It’s important to uphold the principle that someone who lets a sexual predator—who preys on children, no less—off easy because he’s rich and connected and has good lawyers should not be in charge of a large chunk of the federal government, so Alexander Acosta had to go. That said, many, many workers will be much worse off as a result of his departure. Acosta was a conservative Republican who could be counted on to put the interests of the wealthy over the interests of workers, but he wasn’t in a big rush and he wasn’t ready to burn down the entire system of government to screw workers a little more quickly. Now, Donald Trump has nominated Eugene Scalia, son of the late Supreme Court justice, to replace Acosta.

Scalia has represented Walmart against corporate whistleblowers. He’s represented Wynn casinos against table game dealers who objected to tip pooling rules that gave some of their tips to managers. The list goes on and on.

Of course we knew Trump was going to nominate someone terrible. And that’s just what he did, because Trump and his entire party are all about putting a boot on the neck of workers.

 

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos on July 20, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos.

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Trump’s acting Labor secretary pick feared by unions

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Ian Kullgren March 9, 2018. (M. Scott Mahaskey/Politico)Patrick Pizzella, tapped by President Donald Trump on Friday to step in as acting Labor secretary, is a polarizing figure beloved by conservatives for his pro-business views and disliked by unions and Democrats for a history of opposing worker protections.

Pizzella, who has served as deputy secretary of Labor since April 2018, will take over following Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta’s resignation amid controversy over a plea deal that he brokered for wealthy sex offender Jeffrey Epstein as a prosecutor in Florida. Pizzella comes “highly recommended by Alex,” Trump told reporters Friday.

But Pizzella’s ascendance to the top of the agency tasked with enforcing labor protections is something unions have long feared. He worked alongside disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff to shield the Northern Mariana Islands from federal labor laws in the 1990s, and generally has favored easing workplace regulations.

“If the president is serious about helping working people, selecting Patrick Pizzella wouldn’t be the way to demonstrate that,” Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said in a statement. “My dealings with Patrick have been limited, but his dubious track record, including his association with Jack Abramoff, doesn’t bode well.”

Some Democrats on Friday urged Trump to put someone else in charge of the Labor Department. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) said in a written statement that Pizzella‘s “checkered past on these issues — including lobbying with convicted felon Jack Abramoff on behalf of sweatshops and pushing anti-worker policies as a member of the Federal Labor Relations Authority — make him unfit to lead the Department of Labor.”

This article was originally published by Politico on July 12, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Ian Kullgren is a reporter on POLITICO’s employment and immigration team. Before joining POLITICO, he was a reporter for The Oregonian in Portland, Ore. and was part of a team that covered a 41-day standoff with armed militants at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Their efforts earned the Associated Press Media Editors grand prize for news reporting in 2017. His real beat was politics, though, and he spent most his time at the state capitol covering the governor and state legislature.


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Alexander Acosta stepping down as Labor secretary

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Ian Kullgren March 9, 2018. (M. Scott Mahaskey/Politico)Eliana JohnsonAnita Kumar

Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta is stepping down from his post, just two days after he held a news conference to defend a plea deal that he brokered for wealthy sex offender Jeffrey Epstein while serving as a U.S. attorney in Florida more than a decade ago.

President Donald Trump alerted reporters this morning of Acosta’s departure. “This was him, not me,” said Trump as Acosta stood beside him.

Trump, who saw Acosta largely as a source of favorable monthly statistics about unemployment and job growth, called Acosta “a great labor secretary not a good one” and “a tremendous talent. He’s a Hispanic man, he went to Harvard, a great student.” Trump indicated that he was satisfied with Acosta’s explanation for the plea deal in Wednesday’s news conference, saying, “He explained it.”

But Acosta has had a rocky relationship in recent months with other White House officials, including acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, over the perceived slow pace of deregulation at the department. And one person familiar with the situation said that although Trump initially thought Acosta handled the Epstein controversy well, over the last couple of days the president saw the negative press and didn’t like it.

“POTUS is not a fan of bad press, especially when other people make him look bad,” this person said.

Acosta, a 50-year-old Harvard-educated lawyer, came newly under fire for the lenient 2008 plea deal after Epstein was re-arrested July 6 in New York City and charged with sex trafficking. Under the earlier plea agreement, Epstein served only 13 months of an 18-month term and was permitted daily furloughs to go to the office. Epstein also was required to register as a sex offender and to pay restitution to his underage victims.

At the White House this morning, Acosta told reporters: “Over the last week I’ve seen a lot of coverage of the department of labor. And what I have not seen is the incredible job creation that we’ve seen in this economy. more than 5 million jobs, I haven’t seen that…. I do not think it is right and fair for this administration’s labor department to have Epstein as the focus, rather than the incredible economy that we have today.”

It’s an ignominious end for a son of middle-class Cuban immigrants who climbed his way up and made a name for himself in conservative social circles. Acosta led his resignation letter with mention of his parents and their desire to secure “the best opportunities for their son and grandchildren.”

“He’s been careful for his whole life, going to the right schools and connecting to the right people,” said a former administration official. “And now he’s just going to be remembered for Jeffrey Epstein.”

Things began to unravel for Acosta in November, when the Miami Herald published a lengthy reexamination of the case, and accelerated in February, when a district court judge ruled that the 2008 plea deal violated the Crime Victims Rights Act because Acosta never revealed the terms of the deal to Epstein’s victims before it was finalized. Also in February, the Justice Department opened an investigation into whether Acosta’s prosecution team committed professional misconduct in its handling the Epstein case.

Key details of Acosta’s plea agreement with Epstein were known to senators at the time Acosta was confirmed as labor secretary, though initially these seemed minor compared to domestic abuse allegations against Trump’s first pick for labor secretary, Andy Puzder. Acosta defended his actions at a congressional hearing this past April, saying he entered the case only after a state grand jury recommended that only one charge be filed against Epstein — a course of action that would have resulted in no jail time for Epstein, no restitution to victims, and no registration as a sex offender.

“At the end of the day Mr. Epstein went to jail,” Acosta said. “Mr. Epstein was incarcerated, he registered as a sex offender, the world was put on notice that he was a sex offender, and the victims received restitution.“

Acosta has suggested that he and his attorneys were worn down by Epstein’s all-star legal team, which included Alan Dershowitz and Kenneth Starr, the special prosecutor who investigated the Monica Lewinsky scandal in the 1990s. Among other tactics, the Epstein lawyers investigated the prosecutors looking for “personal pecadillos,” Acosta wrote in 2011 to journalist Conchita Sarnoff, whose 2016 book “TrafficKing” chronicled the Epstein prosecution. Acosta called these efforts “a year-long assault on the prosecution and the prosecutors.”

Acosta has also said that the full extent of Epstein’s alleged abuse wasn’t known at the time he struck the plea deal.

“Had these additional statements and evidence been known,” he wrote in a letter Sarnoff, “the outcome may have been different.”

Epstein aside, Acosta‘s relationships in the White House wore thin in recent months. Known for his careful demeanor, Acosta was privately accused by White House officials of slow-walking deregulatory efforts, such as business-friendly policies on overtime pay and shielding franchised companies from legal liabilities.

It took two years for DOL to issue a regulation outlining a program for privately led apprenticeships, a delay that irked the president’s daughter, Ivanka Trump. A former DOL official told POLITICO in June that she was “fed up” with Acosta.

Mulvaney curtailed Acosta’s rule-making authority shortly after taking office in January, requiring three White House aides to sit in on all the agency’s regulatory meetings. Then in May, the White House took the unusual step of ordering Acosta to fire his chief of staff, Nick Geale, after an internal review concluded that Geale’s interactions with employees — including frequent profanity-laced tirades — were damaging morale inside the agency.

Even as White House aides abandoned Acosta, the president himself remained content, in large part because of the favorable monthly employment statistics typically reported by DOL. Acosta went out of his way to praise the strength of the economy on social media, often mentioning the president by name.

“I feel very badly, actually, for Secretary Acosta,“ Trump said July 9. “I’ve known him as somebody that works so hard and does such a good job. I feel very badly about that whole situation.”

This article was originally published by Politico on July 12, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Ian Kullgren is a reporter on POLITICO’s employment and immigration team. Before joining POLITICO, he was a reporter for The Oregonian in Portland, Ore. and was part of a team that covered a 41-day standoff with armed militants at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Their efforts earned the Associated Press Media Editors grand prize for news reporting in 2017. His real beat was politics, though, and he spent most his time at the state capitol covering the governor and state legislature.

He is a native of the mitten state and graduated from Michigan State University, where he ditched most of his classes to work on The State News, the student newspaper. He’s a big fan of mountains, for hiking in the summer and skiing in the winter.

About the Author: Eliana Johnson is a White House correspondent at POLITICO. She previously served as Washington editor of National Review, where she led the organization’s 2016 election coverage. She has worked as a producer at the Fox News Channel, as a research associate at the Council on Foreign Relations, and as a staff reporter for the New York Sun, where she covered higher education. She graduated from Yale College in 2006 with a degree in History.

About the Author: Anita Kumar serves as White House correspondent and associate editor, covering President Donald Trump and helping organize and guide coverage for POLITICO’s White House team.

Kumar joined POLITICO in 2019 after covering the White House for McClatchy’s chain of newspapers for six years. She reported on Hillary Clinton’s campaign for president in 2016 and Barack Obama’s re-election campaign in 2012.

Prior to that, she worked at the Washington Post, writing about Virginia politics, and the Tampa Bay Times, writing about local, state and federal government both in Florida and Washington. She started her career at the News & Advance in Lynchburg, Va. and worked briefly at the News & Record in Greensboro, N.C.

A native Virginian, Kumar grew up in Charlottesville and attended the University of Virginia.

Kumar was elected to the White House Correspondents’ Association board in July 2018 for a three-year term. She appears regularly on television and radio.


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