Biden Nominates Julie Su as Deputy Secretary of Labor

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Despite an impeachment trial happening down the street, President Joe Biden is operating full steam ahead in building his administration. On Wednesday, Feb. 10, he nominated deputy secretary of labor Julie Su, who currently serves as secretary of the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency.

(@JulieSuCA / Twitter)

“Julie Su embodies the spirit of California… With a leader like Julie at the helm—a tireless fighter for working Americans and a voice for the voiceless—the U.S. Department of Labor will play a central role in guiding us through recovery toward becoming a safer, more equitable and more prosperous nation,” said California governor Gavin Newsom (D), who appointed Su as his cabinet advisor in 2019.

She previously served as California labor commissioner for seven years, launching a wide-scale “Wage Theft is a Crime” campaign to educate on workers’ rights and labor laws.

Su, the bilingual daughter of Chinese immigrants, first served as litigation director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Los Angeles, having worked as a civil rights lawyer for 17 years. She received a MacArthur Foundation fellowship in 2001 after defending Thai garment workers in Los Angeles who suffered extremely poor working conditions.

The foundation praised Su for “establishing a precedent that expands the scope of employment responsibility” when awarding her with the so-called genius grant. “Her attention to the human and legal dimensions of the abuses of immigrant laborers provides a powerful model for public advocacy.”

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In her most recent role, she has confronted head-on the economic challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Overseeing the California Employment Development Department (EDD), she took responsibility for its dysfunction early on in the pandemic.

“I acknowledge that problem. I own it. I want you to hear from me directly that that is not acceptable and we are going to fix it,” Su said in a Facebook Live in April.

Dozens of civil rights and labor organizations, such as the National Immigration Law Center, encouraged Biden to appoint Su, releasing a complimentary letter: “Over the course of nearly ten years in office, Julie Su has developed a track record of reinvigorating labor agencies to deliver on their mission,” the more than 40 organizations wrote collectively.

A Stanford and Harvard graduate, Su has taught law at both UCLA and Northeastern. Transitioning into a federal government position, if confirmed by the Senate, she’ll work alongside Labor Secretary nominee Marty Walsh.

“Julie Su will bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to the Department of Labor. Throughout her distinguished career, she has stood up for vulnerable workers, championed labor rights, and improved the lives of workers and families across California,” Committee on Education and Labor chairman Bobby Scott (D-Va.) said. “Her strong record of leadership is precisely what we need during this difficult time for our nation’s workers.”

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Sophie Dorf-Kamienny is a Ms. Fellow and former Editorial Intern. She recently graduated high school and is completing a gap year before attending Tufts University.