To the members of the United States Senate:
I am mystified that the Senate voted to confirm a nominee like Alexander Acosta. His professional record is a laundry list of positions and actions that betray indifference toward the struggles endured by America’s 12 million restaurant workers; particularly women and people of color. During his tenure at the Department of Justice, he supported efforts to suppress black voters. While a U.S. Attorney, he gave a wealthy business man accused of soliciting underaged prostitutes a light sentence. For women restaurant workers navigating through an industry where sexual harassment is at crisis levels, this is horrifying and unacceptable.
There’s more. Acosta’s has an extensive track record of anti-worker positions. In 2003, he voted in favor of firing hospital strikers. Later, he disregarded an employer’s efforts to intimidate workers attempting to form a union. He even voted in the minority against penalization of a company guilty of misconduct.
The job of the Secretary of Labor is to protect our nation’s most vulnerable workers. Few are more vulnerable that tipped restaurant workers. They earn a tipped minimum wage of as little as $2.13 per hour at the federal level. Consequently, they rely on tips from customers, rather than a fair wage from their employer to make ends meet. As a result, they experience disproportionate rates of poverty, discrimination, and sexual harassment. The National Restaurant Association (NRA) is largely responsible for this shameful status quo. For decades they have worked to keep industry wages low and workplace conditions poor. Their influence across our politics is legendary and infamous. We could see it in the policy positions of both Andrew Puzder and Alexander Acosta. We clearly saw their influence in yesterday’s vote as well.
The job of the Senate is to carefully and rigorous vet any nominee for a cabinet position. On Thursday, you failed restaurant workers, and you failed this country. During Acosta’s hearing before the Senate HELP Committee last month, he repeatedly dodged questions regarding protections for women and jobs programs. Senator Elizabeth Warren pressed Acosta on a variety of important regulations, including overtime protections for low-wage workers. With each non answer, Warren’s frustrations grew:
“These are questions that determine whether or not they can go to work every day without getting lung cancer, whether they will be paid fairly so they will have enough money to put food on the table and send their kids to college,” Warren explained. “…If you can’t give me straight answers … I don’t have any confidence you’re the right person for this job.”
Neither did we. With the nomination of Puzder and Acosta, President Trump made clear his intention to use his administration as a platform for the NRA’s harmful policies. The Senate is a crucial check on overreach and abuse by the Executive Branch. Never has that check been more important. The American People need a government that works.
ROC United has led the resistance to the Trump agenda through its campaign for One Fair Wage—the elimination of the lower wage for tipped workers, its condemnation of the nominations of both Puzder and Acosta, and its leadership and avid support for the Women’s Strike on International Women’s Day. ROC United has also joined a lawsuit against the Trump Administration for its blatant violation of the foreign emoluments clause of the U.S. Constitution. The resistance is growing, and we are committed to this fight, with or without you.
American Democracy relies on your commitment to do what is best for our nation, rather than for yourselves. It is an imperative that you put partisanship and special interest money aside. You are an important barrier to an Executive Branch run amok. On Thursday, you shirked that responsibility.
Saru Jayaraman, Co-Founder and Co-Director of ROC United