Acting Labor Secretary Julie Su prepares to testify before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee

Acting Labor Secretary Julie Su prepares to testify before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee on April 20, 2023 in Washington, D.C.

(Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Sanders Blasts Corporations 'Spending Millions' to Defeat Worker Champion Julie Su

"This debate has everything to do with the fact that Julie Su is a champion of the working class who will stand up against the forces of corporate greed," said Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Sen. Bernie Sanders on Thursday used his opening remarks at Julie Su's confirmation hearing to slam the corporate-led campaign against the labor secretary nominee, characterizing it as a desperate effort to tank a public official who is "prepared to take on powerful special interests and stand up for the needs of the working class of this country."

"Let's be honest. The debate over Ms. Su has nothing to do with her qualifications," Sanders (I-Vt.), chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, said during the panel's hearing. "No one can tell us with a straight face that Ms. Su is unqualified for this position. She is exceptionally well qualified."

"No. This debate has everything to do with the fact that Julie Su is a champion of the working class who will stand up against the forces of corporate greed," Sanders continued. "Today, large multinational corporations are spending millions of dollars trying to defeat her nomination... And while many corporate interests oppose her, she is supported by every major labor organization in this country representing over 20 million workers, including the AFL-CIO, the United Mine Workers of America, the Teamsters, and the SEIU."

Su's confirmation hearing comes as her prospects of filling the secretary of labor position in a permanent capacity remain unclear because two Senate Democrats and one independent—Sens. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), and Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.)—have yet to say whether they support her nomination. Su is currently serving as acting labor secretary.

Sanders noted in his opening remarks Thursday that "every Democrat in the Senate"—including Sinema, who was a Democrat at the time—voted to confirm Su as deputy labor secretary in 2021. (Every Republican voted no.)

"The only thing that has changed since that vote is that Julie Su has done an excellent job as deputy secretary of labor," said Sanders.

Watch the Vermont senator's full opening statement:

In the run-up to Su's confirmation hearing, industry groups including the California Business and Industrial Alliance—a trade organization founded by corporate executives—ran ads in Arizona, Montana, West Virginia, and elsewhere portraying the nominee as "unqualified" for the top Labor Department post, pointing to her tenure as a California labor official.

The Hillreported Thursday that "Stand Against Su, a coalition that says it's backed by franchisees and freelancers, is running digital and newspaper ads in West Virginia, Montana, Arizona, and Maine to pressure key senators to reject Su's nomination."

"The coalition is led in part by the California Business and Industrial Alliance," The Hill noted.

Su's opponents, including Republican senators, have highlighted the unemployment insurance fraud that took place in California amid the coronavirus pandemic, resulting in billions of dollars in improper payments.

Su, who was head of the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency between 2019 and 2021, has stressed that the increase in fraud stemmed from the federal government's major expansion of unemployment insurance early in the pandemic—a swift emergency effort to provide relief to those thrown out of work.

Sanders echoed that point Thursday, stressing that "the unemployment insurance fraud rate was 15.4% in Tennessee, 15.3% in Arizona, 14.3% in South Carolina, and over 14% in Massachusetts."

"All of those states had Republican governors and Republican labor secretaries and all of those states experienced higher unemployment insurance fraud rates than California," Sanders said. "The truth is that the Trump administration failed to provide adequate guidance and resources to states on how to administer these emergency unemployment benefits and, as a result, fraud went up."

Nearly 11,000 people have signed an AFL-CIO petition urging the Senate to confirm Su, a civil rights attorney who Biden nominated to fill the top Labor Department role last month following the departure of Marty Walsh.

"Her record speaks for itself," the petition states. "As a young attorney representing trafficked Thai garment workers outside of Los Angeles, she won $4 million in stolen wages. Her case set a huge precedent, and that was just the beginning of a storied career."

With Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) absent and her timeline for return unclear, the Senate Democratic caucus can't afford to lose a single vote if Su is to be confirmed.

Tester was supposed to meet with Su following Thursday's hearing, but the meeting was canceled due to an apparent scheduling conflict.

"I'm very ambivalent," Tester said of Su's nomination. "I voted for her before. I don't have a problem with her right now. We'll see how things go.”

Both Manchin and Sinema have refused to say whether they will vote to confirm Su.

"No comment," Manchin told reporters Thursday when asked about the nominee.

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