R. Alexander Acosta was sworn in on April 28 to be the 27th U.S. Secretary of Labor. Acosta served in three presidentially appointed, Senate-confirmed positions previously. In 2002, he was appointed to serve as a member of the National Labor Relations Board, where he participated in or authored more than 125 opinions. In 2003, he was appointed assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, and from 2005 to 2009 he served as the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida.
The son of Cuban refugees and a native of Miami, Acosta is a first-generation college graduate, earning his undergraduate and law degrees from Harvard University.
Following law school, he worked as a law clerk for Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr., at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. He then worked at the law firm of Kirkland & Ellis and went on to teach at George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia School of Law.
Most recently, Acosta served as the dean of the FIU College of Law.
Acosta twice has been named one of the nation’s 50 most influential Hispanics by Hispanic Business magazine. He also was named to the list of 100 most influential individuals in business ethics in 2008. In 2013, the South Florida Hispanic Chamber of Commerce presented him with the Chairman’s Higher Education Award in recognition of his “outstanding achievements, leadership and determination throughout a lifetime of caring and giving back to the community.”
EHS Community Reacts
In a statement, the National Safety Council said it congratulates Alexander Acosta on his confirmation as Secretary of Labor, noting, “A worker is injured on the job every 7 seconds – a stark reminder that more must be done to make our workplaces safe. As the nation’s oldest workplace safety advocate, we look forward to working with Secretary Acosta to prioritize the health and safety of American workers.”
The American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) President Thomas Cecich, CSP, CIH, offered his congratulations on behalf of ASSE’s 37,000 occupational safety and health professionals, noting that every new administration “presents an opportunity to look at workplace safety and health in a new way.” He added: “Innovative approaches must be developed to address the fact that the occurrences of serious workplace injuries, illnesses and fatalities have remained relatively the same for nearly two decades. Our members succeed in bringing these numbers down for the nation’s best employers. That success can be shared with all employers to protect both workers’ safety and health and employers’ ability to compete.”
“The appointment of Secretary Acosta begets a new era of hope for the American worker,” said Mark Ames, director of Government Relations, American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA). "Each day, approximately 150 people die of work-related injuries and illnesses, and even more suffer non-fatal injuries, placing a tremendous strain on their families and costing the Nation’s economy and businesses billions of dollars. In light of these staggering statistics, AIHA trusts that Secretary Acosta will quickly choose a new assistant secretary of OSHA to keep the agency running without falter.”
Business Community Reacts
Jay Timmons, president and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), reached out to Senate members via email before the confirmation vote, requesting that they confirm Acosta. Acosta will be “eminently qualified to play an instrumental role in the administration’s efforts to … make America more competitive, create jobs and boost U.S. economic growth. I am confident he will work with manufacturers to eliminate unnecessary regulatory burdens while protecting the health and safety of our employees.”
Acosta is an “exceptional choice” to lead the Department of Labor, Timmons wrote, adding, “He brings a unique experience from his time on the National Labor Relations Board, where he had first-hand knowledge of the complexities of current labor policies and how these polices have stifled competitiveness, investment and job creation. Having a strong leader with this type of experience and a proven track record of working collaboratively is vital to ensure that this key department fulfills its important mission to foster, promote and develop the welfare of the wage earners, employers, and job seekers in America.”
In a letter to Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Senate majority leader, and Sen. Charles Schumer, Senate minority leader, Neil L. Bradley, senior vice president and chief policy officer for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said, “Four months into the administration, the Department of Labor urgently needs a secretary to shape its agenda and proceed with the numerous regulatory issues now being held up at the department by the lack of Senate-confirmed leadership.”
He noted that Acosta has an “extraordinary history of government service and refined skills,” which will ensure that he will be a highly successful secretary of labor. Bradley referenced Acosta’s previous three appointed positions, for which he was unanimously confirmed by the Senate.
“Mr. Acosta is known for being thoughtful and respectful to all parties, even those who take a different view than his, while still maintaining his principles and advancing his positions,” said Bradley.
Acosta's appointment now opens the way for the appointments of assistant secretaries of labor for OSHA and MSHA.