The UAW and other labor unions hope Alexander Acosta displays independent thinking if he is confirmed to head the U.S. Department of Labor.
President Donald Trump’s pick to head the U.S. Labor Department once had the UAW’s back in a dispute with DaimlerChrysler.
Alexander Acosta, who faces a vote in the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee on Thursday, was previously appointed by President George W. Bush to a nine-month term at the National Labor Relations Board in 2002 and 2003.
There, as Politico notes in its comprehensive review of Acosta’s tenure on the NLRB, he established a reputation as somewhat of an independent on the notoriously partisan board. While unmistakably conservative, he was not afraid to buck the party line and side with Democrats in certain cases.
One of those cases came in April 2003, when Acosta sided with the board’s two Democrats to uphold a vote in favor of DaimlerChrysler workers joining the UAW.
By a vote of 18-17, service engineers at an engineering center near Chrysler’s Michigan headquarters voted in 2002 to be represented by the UAW in collective bargaining talks. DaimlerChrysler disputed the vote, pointing to one ballot that had a question mark drawn next to a checked-off “yes” box.
In ruling in the UAW’s favor, Acosta bucked his Republican colleagues, who said in their dissent that the question mark presented “reasonable doubt” about the voter’s intent.
“Even if the voter had ambiguous feelings about his or her choice, the choice itself is not ambiguous,” the majority wrote in its decision. “Whatever reason the voter may have had for placing the question mark, the voter deliberately decided to express a preference by placing an ‘X’ in the ‘YES’ square.”
It’s that type of independent thinking the UAW and other labor unions hope Acosta displays if he is confirmed to the position, which most observers view as highly probable.
Those hopes took a hit during Acosta’s confirmation hearing earlier this month, when he would not say if he would go against Trump and support Obama-era overtime rules and other regulations.
The UAW, which has something of a complicated relationship with Trump, has thus far remained silent on Acosta, issuing no public statements on his nomination. When asked for comment, a UAW spokesman pointed to a statement from AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, who said Acosta has “failed” to demonstrate he would uphold labor laws and “ensure America’s workers he’s on our side.”
Still, Trumka acknowledged Acosta as a “major improvement” over Trump’s first labor nominee, the cartoonish fast-food CEO Andrew Puzder, who withdrew his nomination in February after fierce backlash from labor unions and liberal activists.
But whether the UAW and other unions will find Acosta to be an occasional ally, as he was on the NLRB, or a consistent enemy to their cause is an open question, perhaps one as ambiguous as that Chrysler worker’s question mark.