With the nomination of Alexander Acosta to head the Department of Labor, the race is on to figure out where he stands on issues important to employers.
While Acosta has conservative credentials, he also has some history of restricting the ways in which employers can treat employees. That may end up influencing DOL policies and regulations.
Currently the dean of Florida International University’s College of Law, Acosta was a member of the National Labor Relations Board from 2002 to 2003, assistant attorney general in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division from 2003 to 2005 and U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida from 2005 to 2009.
At the Justice Department, Acosta intervened when a Muslim middle school student sued her Oklahoma school district after it required her to remove her hijab head scarf because it violated the school’s dress code. Acosta argued that it was unconstitutional for the district to essentially require the girl to choose between her religion and a public education.
The U.S. Supreme Court would eventually reach the same conclusion in 2015 when it ruled that retailer Abercrombie & Fitch could not refuse to hire head scarf-wearing applicants. (EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 14–86, 2015)
After Acosta’s term as an NLRB member, the board began a long tilt toward a more employee-friendly stance on labor relations issues. During his tenure, however, Acosta signed on to a number of decidedly pro-employer decisions that were critical of unions.
The son of Cuban exiles, Acosta’s views on immigration may not jibe with others in the Trump administration. Speaking in 2012 at an immigration and workforce policy seminar, he stated that the U.S. economy needs immigrant labor, especially in the construction and agriculture industries.
Acosta called for a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants already in the U.S.