Progressive groups and Democratic lawmakers expressed serious concerns Thursday about corporate attorney Eugene Scalia — President Donald Trump's pick to lead the Labor Department — as the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee met to consider his nomination.
"Instead of nominating a Secretary of Labor, President Trump has nominated a Secretary of Corporate Interests," declared Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the committee's ranking member. "If there's one consistent pattern in Mr. Scalia's long career, it's hostility to the very workers he would be charged with protecting, and the very laws he would be charged with enforcing if he were confirmed."
The committee is expected to decide next week whether to advance Scalia, the son of late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, to a full Senate vote. Given the Republican majority in the Senate, he is expected to be appointed to the post in Trump's cabinet. However, that has not stopped lawmakers and others from sounding the alarm on Scalia's record as an attorney representing corporate giants like Walmart and the Labor Department's chief legal officer during President George W. Bush's administration.
"Eugene Scalia has demonstrated that he remains committed to protecting corporations over working people and is unfit to lead as Secretary of Labor," Lee Saunders, president of AFSCME, the country's largest trade union, said in a statement after Thursday's hearing.
"In both private practice and as the Labor Department's top attorney, Scalia supported the growth of unchecked corporate power and neglected the welfare of working people," Saunders said. "After the Great Recession, Scalia led financial services industry efforts to challenge the 2010 Dodd-Frank law needed to protect working families."
"He opposed efforts to raise the minimum wage for federal workers and advocated for eliminating the fiduciary rule, which requires financial advisors to work in their customers' best interest," Saunders continued. "Scalia also sided against workers and their unions in lawsuits alleging corporations like Boeing and UPS were retaliating and discriminating against employees."
Urging senators to reject Scalia's nomination, the union leader concluded that "we need a champion for working people in the Department of Labor who will advance standards that protect overtime pay, strengthen workplace safety, and defend workers' rights over corporate interests."
Heidi Hess, co-director of CREDO Action, also released a scathing statement condemning Scalia after the hearing Thursday.
"Eugene Scalia's testimony today proved that if the Senate confirms him as our next Secretary of Labor," she warned, "it would be a huge victory for corporations and an absolute disaster for working families, consumers, and communities of color."
"Scalia cut his teeth as a lawyer by fighting for corporations and making sure big businesses like Walmart, Ford, and UPS made every dollar possible at the expense of workers and consumers," Hess said. "With Scalia in charge, Trump's Department of Labor would go even further down the path of siding with big corporations over workers and the American people."
During the hearing Thursday, Bloomberg Law reported, "Scalia looked to counter Democrat and union criticisms about his representation of many Fortune 500 companies." Several Republicans on the committee indicated that they plan to support his nomination, according to the outlet.
Scalia is preparing to take over the Labor Department at a critical moment in Trump administration workplace policy. An active regulatory agenda is already underway, including a landmark rule to expand overtime pay access that cleared White House review and could be released within the next week.
Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle pressed Scalia on big-ticket ongoing DOL rulemakings that he would inherit if confirmed. But Scalia cited the regulations' incomplete status in avoiding a commitment to take specific actions.
Trump nominated Scalia to the post in July, less than a week after former Labor Secretary Alex Acosta announced his resignation following days of controversy over a sweetheart deal Acosta struck with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, who killed himself in government custody in August. Some politicians and observers had expected Trump to nominate Deputy Labor Secretary Patrick Pizzella, who has been serving as acting secretary since Acosta's departure.