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Published March 07, 2023

Identity Politics Over Merit

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On February 28, 2023, President Biden nominated Deputy Secretary of Labor Julie Su for Secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor, touting Su as a “tested and experienced leader, who will continue to build a stronger, more resilient, and more inclusive economy.” The president’s endorsement is a glaring example of putting identity politics ahead of merit in the selection and appointment of national public leaders.

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CFER

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CFER Statement Regarding the Nomination of Julie Su for Labor Secretary

On February 28, 2023, President Biden nominated Deputy Secretary of Labor Julie Su for Secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor, touting Su as a “tested and experienced leader, who will continue to build a stronger, more resilient, and more inclusive economy.” The president’s endorsement is a glaring example of putting identity politics ahead of merit in the selection and appointment of national public leaders.

Rather than “a champion for workers,” Julie Su has had a questionable track record in safeguarding workers and advancing public interests. As the Secretary for the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency, Su mishandled public fund and betrayed public trust in her mis-handling of massive unemployment insurance (UI) money. Under Su’s leadership, the California’s Employment Development Department (EDD) adopted a lax and decentralized fraud prevention approach in spite of repeated warnings from the U.S. Department of Labor when administering the expansive federal UI claims.

According to the State Auditor, inaction, missteps and technical failures resulted in a 27% rate of frauds, $810-million-dollars of illegitimate claims under incarcerated individuals, and 26,000 suspicious addresses. In one particular case, over 1,700 UI claims went to a single address. In total, the scale of the EDD scandal was estimated to be at a shocking $31 billion dollars!

Julie Su played a key role in the EDD fraud in her leadership role. In March 2020, Su directed EDD to remove a key safeguard against identity theft and required the agency to distribute UI funds before determining eligibility. This significant mistake opened the flood gate for fraudsters and crowded out legitimate claimants who desperately needed unemployment assistance. In this sense, Su failed disastrously to promote the welfare of workers.

Facing the colossal unemployment fraud, Su failed her fiduciary responsibilities to California taxpayers, unfairly penalized legitimate claimants and eroded public trust. Yet, she has never shown willingness to accept full responsibility. Her promotion to the post of Labor Secretary is a great insult to countless Americans who believe that merit, not race, should be a primary consideration in public employment.

As a former labor movement activist and the Litigation Director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Los Angeles (AAAJ), Su has long prioritized organized union interests over individual workers. Notably, Su’s previous employer AAAJ has been a staunch defender of race-based affirmative action and endorsed the racial-preference ballot measure Proposition 16 in 2020. Su has been a long-standing supporter of racial preferences, conflating quotas with opportunities in a 2003 interview by the Los Angeles Times.

Deputy Secretary Su’s inexcusable role in the EDD fraud which unfairly harmed unemployed Californians who truly needed help should serve as an ironic stain against her proclaimed record of advancing labor justice and civil rights. Instead, Su was nominated by President Joe Biden as Labor Secretary as a response to a long-standing campaign by labor unions and other progressive groups to pressure the Biden administration to pick an Asian-American, female cabinet member. This imprudent decision was made in pure political calculations of racial diversity and would do a huge disservice to the Department of Labor and American workers.


Contact:

Wenyuan Wu

wenyuan.wu@cferfoundation.org

About Californians for Equal Rights Foundation (CFER):

We are a non-partisan and non-profit organization established following the defeat of Proposition 16 in 2020, with a mission to defend and raise public awareness on the cause of equal rights through public education, civic engagement and community outreach. In 1996, California became the first U.S. state to amend its constitution by passing Proposition 209 to ban racial discrimination and preferences. Prop. 209 requires that “the state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.” CFER is dedicated to educating the public on this important constitutional principle of equal treatment.

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