Labor Secretary Nominee Eugene Scalia Has Long Anti-Worker History
“His views are dangerously out of the mainstream.”
After President Trump officially nominated corporate lawyer Eugene Scalia to serve as secretary of Labor last week, AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka said his federation of labor unions would likely oppose Scalia’s nomination, citing the lawyer’s long history of representing corporations and fighting labor regulations.
While the Labor Department is charged with “the welfare of wage earners”, Trumka and other critics believe Scalia will fight for executives and capital owners instead of workers. “His views are dangerously out of the mainstream,” Trumka said, referring to Scalia’s role in leading the campaign against ergonomics rules, regulations made to protect workers from injuries caused by workplace design, in the 1990s.
Democratic senators blocked George W. Bush’s appointment of Scalia to serve as the Labor Department solicitor general in 2002 over his fierce opposition to worker health and safety protections. Bush then installed Scalia through a recess appointment.
“When Eugene Scalia was nominated for solicitor of labor in 2002 we actively opposed him because he had a record of being so anti-union,” Trumka told reporters on Thursday. “Since 2002 his record has only gotten worse.”
Scalia’s Fight Against Workers
Scalia, son of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, is currently a partner at corporate law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, where he has earned more than $6 million since the beginning of last year performing legal work for mega companies like Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, Facebook, Walmart and numerous others.
Top financial institutions used Scalia as their most formidable mercenary in the war against Dodd-Frank regulations meant to restrain excessive speculation and consumer abuse after the 2008 subprime mortgage recession. Scalia killed proposals like the “extractive industries” rule, which would have demanded fossil fuel and mining companies disclose all payments above $100,000 made to foreign governments.
He worked as the lead counsel against the Labor Department to kill the “fiduciary rule” which would have protected workers’ retirement pensions by requiring investment advisers to act in the interest of their clients. The rule would have increased transparency by making advisers give conflict-of-interest free advice, meaning they would have to prioritize their clients’ needs above their own compensation.
Scalia fought for Walmart to strike down a law proposed by Maryland’s legislature to force large corporations to spend 8 percent of payroll on either funding private health insurance or contributing into the state’s Medicaid fund. Lawmakers in the state pushed the rule in response to studies showing large numbers of Walmart employees reliant on public health care because of their low wages, despite the company’s massive profits.
After United Parcel Service (UPS) workers who were injured on the job sued their employer for its alleged failure to provide reasonable accommodations, the employees “successfully won certification of a national class of similarly situated workers to pursue their claims,” as per the Economic Policy Institute. Scalia got the class certification struck down on appeal. Scalia also fought to make UPS workers, rather than their employers, pay for protective equipment needed to stay safe on the job.
Sexual Harassment Case
Investigative journalist David Dayen recently urged lawmakers to question Scalia on an overlooked case he worked on for the bank HSBC in 2015, where he harshly questioned a sexual harassment victim who had already won a settlement. Although the woman in question wasn’t even the subject of the litigation, Scalia was “belligerent toward her, abrasive,” according to the banker at HSBC who reported the harassment.
“The deposition reveals a particularly retrograde attitude toward sexual harassment, a couple years before the explosion of Me Too cases,” writes Dayen. “Like any attorney, Scalia is entitled to vigorously represent his client. But in this case, he depicted a sexual harassment victim —someone who already had received a settlement from HSBC—as a philandering liar. This ‘blame-the-victim’ strategy as a way for corporations to escape blame for sexual misconduct on their watch is all too typical.”
Because the Labor Department has some authority over sexual harassment cases, former Labor Secretary Alex Acosta was pressured to resign after revelations of the shockingly lenient plea deal he negotiated in 2008 for child sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein was brought to national attention. Dayen argues Scalia’s views on sexual abuse should also be scrutinized, writing: “Whom would he seek to protect as Labor Secretary: victims, or the companies that might be liable for creating a harassing environment?”
Upcoming Confirmation Hearing
While Scalia will almost certainly pass the Senate confirmation in the Republican-controlled chamber, Democrats will seek to bring attention to the corporate lawyer’s controversial record.
“Eugene Scalia spent his career putting giant corporations over American workers,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren tweeted when his nomination was first announced. “This should concern anyone who believes that the Department of Labor should protect workers’ rights – not corporate interests. The Senate must reject his nomination for Secretary of Labor.”
If confirmed, Scalia will replace acting secretary Patrick Pizella, who has come under scrutiny for his work with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff to fight against basic labor protections in the Northern Mariana Islands, where foreign workers were restricted to maximum wages of $3.05 an hour and subjected to brutal work conditions.
Pizella replaced former secretary Alex Acosta in June after public outcry from his involvement in securing a grotesquely light penalty for serial child rapist Jeffrey Epstein in 2008. Acosta struck the deal with Epstein lawyers, allowing him an unlocked cell door and seven-day a week work release from jail, by purposefully concealing the agreement from Epstein’s victims.