Now that Alexander Acosta has been confirmed as labor secretary by the Senate — after numerous delays — employment and retirement experts say it’s time to get down to business.
“It’s time to end the all-pain, no-gain government policies that limit worker choice and hamstring American employers,” says Trey Kovacs, a labor policy expert at Competitive Enterprise Institute, a free market public policy organization based in Washington, D.C. “Acosta’s experience dealing with tough labor and employment issues at the National Labor Relations Board and the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division will be useful to him in this effort.”
See also: 5 key facts about the new DOL secretary
Kovacs says that Acosta’s first priorities as labor secretary should include “immediately repealing current labor policies that discourage hiring and harm workers’ career prospects. That means determining the Trump administration’s path on the job-killing overtime rule, which is pending in court.”
Acosta, who is an attorney and dean of the Florida International University College of Law, hasn’t specifically stated his opinions on the overtime or fiduciary rules but said in numerous interviews that he is an attorney first, and will not let his own political opinions govern his decision-making as head of the Department of Labor.
The retirement industry has been in a holding pattern waiting for Acosta to be confirmed so he could start filling the empty DOL positions and start working on pressing issues such as whether or not to repeal the Obama-era fiduciary rule governing who is a fiduciary when it comes to giving financial advice.
John Berlau, a CEI senior fellow, says that Acosta needs to “immediately start slamming the brakes on the Department of Labor’s destructive fiduciary rule. The DOL clearly went beyond its authority from Congress by regulating the entire retirement system of 401(k)s and individual retirement accounts.”
Berlau believes that the rule, which will go into effect on June 9, would have a “devastating impact on Americans’ access to financial advice and retirement options. President Trump has already ordered a review of the fiduciary rule, but Secretary Acosta should make sure this review is thorough and complete before the rule takes effect, so middle class savers do not suffer unnecessarily.”
Cathy Weatherford, president and CEO of the Insured Retirement Institute, also says her group is urging Acosta “to complete the examination of the fiduciary rule as directed by the President” and “welcomes the opportunity to work with the Secretary to put in place a consistent and workable best interest standard which will allow Americans to achieve a financially secure retirement.”
Overall, the IRI applauded Acosta’s confirmation, saying that the organization “looks forward to collaborating with Secretary Acosta to pursue common-sense policies benefitting American retirement savers. At a time when more Americans are shouldering the financial weight of retirement themselves, it is vital to develop and implement policies that will encourage Americans to save more for their retirement — including access to affordable financial advice.”
Joy Napier-Joyce, practice group leader for the employee benefits practice group at Jackson Lewis P.C. in Baltimore, says she believes Acosta will “be more friendly to regulations in general than Puzder was, having been in a position at the NLRB where he advocated for more rulemaking.”
She adds that he isn’t as anti-establishment as other nominees who have come from the private sector.
In regards to the fiduciary rule, Napier-Joyce says she believes Acosta will take a holistic look at the rule. “The DOL was asked to consider the costs associated with it and the regulatory burden.”
Acosta is no stranger to the executive branch of government. He was appointed by President George W. Bush to the National Labor Relations Board in 2002. After that, he served as assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. He also served as principal deputy assistant attorney general in the Civil Rights Division. More recently, he was the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida.
Acosta has worked with labor issues before in the Washington, D.C. office of Kirkland & Ellis, where he specialized in employment and labor issues. He also taught classes on employment law, disability-based discrimination law and civil rights law at the George Mason University School of Law.
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