President Donald Trump announced Friday that his labor secretary, Alexander Acosta, would be stepping down from his post. Calls had been growing for Acosta to resign due to the deal he cut as a federal prosector a decade ago with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein ― who now faces new accusations of running a sex trafficking ring in which he abused young girls.
Acosta’s departure leaves Trump with a Cabinet post to fill. This high-turnover administration is known to move slowly when it comes to nominating officials for such positions, so it could be a while before a new Senate-confirmed labor secretary takes over, if one ever does.
But whoever fills Acosta’s shoes could end up being even more aggressive in rolling back regulations at the behest of employers.
For now, Acosta’s responsibilities will fall to Patrick Pizzella, the deputy secretary of labor. A Labor Department spokeswoman confirmed that Pizzella will be taking the helm until the Senate confirms a new secretary.
The Senate confirmed Pizzella as deputy secretary last year, after he spent years in federal labor agencies and the private sector. Pizzella served in the Labor Department for the duration of President George W. Bush’s two terms. He also worked on the team of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
Pizzella’s arrival to the Labor Department in 2018 boosted the hopes of business groups who felt Acosta wasn’t moving swiftly enough to reverse labor policies put in place under President Barack Obama, Bloomberg Law’s Ben Penn reported last year. Pizzella stepping into the very top slot at the agency, even if only temporarily, could boost their hopes even further.
Last year, Mother Jones wrote about Pizzella’s work on behalf of the Northern Mariana Islands to beat back an effort to limit a guest worker program known for exploitation.
“So much for worker protections and the president’s promise to help workers.”
Acosta, for his part, did make efforts to water down or reverse Obama-era worker policies. For instance, the administration has cast aside Obama’s overtime reforms, moving forward with a regulation that would extend protections to far fewer workers. He also pursued a proposal that would have given employers more control over workers’ tips, though he had to abandon it under public pressure.
But at the same time, Acosta did not appear as hostile to regulation as some other current and former members of Trump’s Cabinet, such as former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, who also resigned amid scandal.
To liberals, Acosta seemed a much better choice for labor secretary than Trump’s original pick, Andy Puzder, a former fast-food chief executive. Puzder had helmed the Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. burger chains and was a vocal critic of Obama’s efforts to raise pay for restaurant workers.
Whoever holds the reins moving forward may be closer to Puzder than Acosta on the friend-of-business spectrum. Some worker advocates do not appear heartened by Pizzella’s ascent, even if it isn’t permanent.
Debbie Berkowitz, a worker safety expert at the National Employment Law Project, said via email, “So much for worker protections and the president’s promise to help workers.”