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While the media frenzy over the FBI’s charges against shadowy financier Jeffrey Epstein are sure to bring a number of high profile associates into the spotlight, it’s already claimed its first victim in now former U.S. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta. Prior to his role as the nation’s top labor guru, Acosta served as the U.S. Attorney for the southern district of Florida. In that role, Acosta negotiated a plea deal for Epstein on similar charges years ago. The favorable nature of the deal for Epstein was again questioned when new charges were filed, bringing heavy criticism of Acosta. Last week, Acosta buckled, submitting his resignation as Secretary and opening the door to a potentially significant policy change.

Assuming the role of Acting Secretary of Labor this week is Pat Pizzella, who was tapped in 2016 to serve as a Deputy Secretary for President Trump’s original pick for Labor Secretary, Andy Puzder. While Puzder never got the role, Pizzella was looked at as a strong conservative who had a history as a savvy negotiator. In many ways, Pizzella is viewed as antithetical to Acosta’s methodology and could implement many comprehensive labor changes that Acosta was unwilling to carry out.

For some time, conservative groups have been critical of Acosta, claiming that he has intentionally drug his feet on many core policy goals. The administration’s policy shop has long been eyeing inflammatory changes like reductions in collective bargaining rights for labor unions and lower protections for employees on federally funded construction projects. Acosta resisted those changes, claiming a feud with labor unions could jeopardize the United States-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement (USMCA), which would replace NAFTA. When the administration pushed for Acosta to vocally oppose Sen. Bernie Sanders’ plan for universal Medicare, Acosta again balked.

Pizzella looks to be markedly different than Acosta in this role. He worked for Reagan and Bush administrations, developing a solid supply of conservative credentials, before joining a Washington lobbying firm that specialized in pro-business reforms. In 2013, Pizzella was appointed as the lone Republican on the Obama-era Federal Labor Relations Board, a board that mediates disputes between federal employees and agencies. His opinions were often heavily critical of employees and he was accused of discouraging employees from filing claims.

While conservatives are strongly encouraging the President to name Pizzella as the permanent successor at Labor, it’s clear that he’ll have a fight to get the role.

July 22, 2019