Labor Nominee Acosta Discusses Workers’ Skills Gap and Overtime

By Patrick Brady Mar 24, 2017
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On March 22, Labor Secretary nominee Alexander Acosta testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions for his confirmation hearing. Acosta, a former U.S. attorney and appointee in the Justice Department during the George W. Bush administration, is expected to be approved by the committee, and the Senate could vote on his nomination as early as next week.

In his opening remarks, Acosta highlighted the skills gap facing the 21st century workplace, stating, "We need to make better efforts to align job training with the skills the market demands of its workers, especially as advancing technology changes the types of jobs available in our economy." These are encouraging words because according to SHRM's 2016 National Study of Employers, 89 percent of employers stated that the skills required for their jobs had changed due to new technology or changes in the work itself. In the coming months, SHRM will be reaching out to the Labor Department with possible solutions to address this critical issue.

Entering the hearing, senators were eager to learn from the nominee his thoughts regarding the outstanding overtime litigation. In one exchange, Acosta stated, "The world has gotten more expensive, and salaries have changed since 2004. If you were to apply a straight inflation adjustment, I believe the figure if it were to be updated would be somewhere around $33,000 give or take" for the salary threshold. He went on to say that he has "serious questions" about whether the Labor Department has the authority to raise the overtime salary threshold by more than the rate of inflation. 

Acosta also faced questions from both Republicans and Democrats regarding President Donald Trump's Fiscal Year 2018 Department of Labor budget proposal that would cut current funding for the agency by $2.5 billion or 21 percent. In his answers, Acosta was elusive and noncommittal regarding where savings would come from, stating that he was only the nominee and that it would be improper to weigh in on those decisions given that he has not spoken with Labor Department personnel.

Given that nominee Acosta has been previously confirmed by the Senate three times and that confirmation requires a simple majority of 51 votes in the Senate, barring any unforeseen developments, he is expected to be favorably confirmed as the next Secretary of Labor. 

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