WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Feb. 10 announced an additional member of his jobs team: Julie Su, deputy secretary of labor.
She will support the work of Secretary of Labor nominee Marty Walsh in his efforts to address the worst jobs crisis in nearly a century.
The White House said that Su — who had been considered for secretary of labor — will help advance Biden’s Build Back Better agenda by rebuilding America’s middle class, and that she will be a partner to Biden in building a stronger, more resilient, and more inclusive economy that delivers every American a fair return for their work and an equal chance to get ahead.
Su is currently the secretary of the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency. Gov. Gavin Newsom appointed her in January 2019 to serve as his cabinet advisor on labor issues and employment programs for workers and businesses throughout California.
Su oversees the state departments and boards that enforce labor laws, including minimum wage and occupational safety standards, provide state disability and unemployment insurance benefits, fund workforce training and apprenticeship programs, combat wage theft, protect injured workers, and arbitrate public sector contract disputes.
Su is a nationally recognized expert on workers’ rights and civil rights who has dedicated her distinguished legal career to advancing justice on behalf of poor and disenfranchised communities, and is a past recipient of a MacArthur Foundation “Genius” grant.
As California labor commissioner from 2011 through 2018, Su enforced the state’s labor laws to ensure a fair and just workplace for both employees and employers. A report on her tenure released in May 2013 found that her leadership resulted in a renaissance in enforcement activity and record-setting results.
In 2014, she launched the first “Wage Theft Is a Crime” multimedia, multilingual statewide campaign to reach out to low-wage workers and their employers to help them understand their rights and feel safe speaking up about labor law abuses.
Prior to her appointment as labor commissioner, Su was the litigation director at Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Los Angeles, the nation’s largest nonprofit civil rights organization devoted to issues affecting the Asian American community. In her 17 years as a civil rights lawyer, Su brought landmark lawsuits resulting in millions of dollars for low-wage workers and policy changes in California and the U.S. protecting immigrant victims of crime and human trafficking.
In 1995, she was the lead attorney for Thai garment workers who were trafficked into the U.S. and forced to sew behind barbed wire and under armed guard in an apartment complex in El Monte. Su is known for pioneering a multi-strategy approach that combines successful impact litigation with multiracial organizing, community education, policy reform, coalition building, and media work.
Su has taught at UCLA Law School and Northeastern Law School. She is a graduate of Stanford University and Harvard Law School and began her career with a Skadden Fellowship. She is the daughter of Chinese immigrants and speaks Mandarin and Spanish.
Gov. Newsom said in a statement, “Julie Su embodies the spirit of California. Her commitment to empowering working people and creating opportunity for every community to thrive is exactly why she is the best choice to serve as our nation’s next deputy secretary of labor.
“Julie has been with me from the very start. Throughout her service to California, and amid the challenging circumstances presented by COVID-19 and the resulting recession, Julie has done extraordinary work to create pathways to quality jobs in emerging fields like clean energy, help ensure workers can stay healthy on the job and guide our transition to the future of work.
“With a leader like Julie at the helm — a tireless fighter for working Americans and a voice for the voiceless — the U.S. Department of Labor will play a central role in guiding us through recovery toward becoming a safer, more equitable and more prosperous nation.”
Advancing Justice-L.A. said in a statement, “For over 15 years, Julie Su played a pivotal role at Advancing Justice-L.A. (formerly known as the Asian Pacific American Legal Center) by leading the litigation on landmark civil and workers’ rights cases. Most notable was the Thai garment workers case.
“In Bureerong v. Uvawas, Julie Su led a legal team that filed a lawsuit on behalf of 102 garment workers who had been exploited, most of whom had actually been enslaved, by sweatshop operators. The suit challenged the sweatshop operators, as well as the retailers and manufacturers that profited from their labor.
“This was the first federal lawsuit of its kind, not only setting the precedent in holding manufacturers and retailers accountable for the conditions in which their clothes are made, but leading to new federal laws protecting immigrants who are trafficking into the country. In May 1999, the case ended after a final settlement was reached – total settlements from more than 10 manufacturers and private label retailers exceeded $4 million.”
Advancing Justice-L.A. CEO Connie Chung Joe stated, “We are immensely proud of Julie Su, whose work at Advancing Justice-L.A. on the Thai garment workers’ case in 1995 led to profound changes in labor laws and immigration laws that define responsible working conditions and protect victims of human trafficking throughout the U.S..Her 15+-year tenure as litigation director set the trajectory for Advancing Justice-L.A.’s work in legal services and advocacy for the AANHPI (Asian American-Native Hawaiian-Pacific Islander) communities today.
“Julie has been and continues to be intentional about serving marginalized people most in need. She is a shining example of how, with immense determination and diligence, Advancing Justice-L.A. fulfills its mission to advance the well-being of the AANHPI community, and all communities of color. We celebrate her appointment in the Biden-Harris Administration, and look forward to more AANHPI representation at the highest levels of our government.”
Los Angeles joins in this shared statement representing the Asian Americans Advancing Justice affiliates in Atlanta, Chicago, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C.:
“Advancing Justice congratulates Julie Su on her nomination. Julie Su has spent her decades-long career fighting for workers’ rights and ensuring their health and safety. Her nomination is a win for all working people, including people of color, immigrants, and women. As the former litigation director of Advancing Justice-Los Angeles, Su advocated and helped deliver a victory for Thai garment workers in the El Monte sweatshop case, which led to sweeping changes in our country’s labor laws and protection for victims of human trafficking.
“As a champion for the underserved in California, she not only represented the workers, but also helped them access health care, find housing, and empowered them to tell their stories in court. As California’s labor commissioner, Su led a renaissance in the agency’s enforcement activity, with strategic reforms that resulted in record-setting recoveries and relief for some of the state’s most abused and marginalized workers. As California’s secretary of labor, Su continued to fight for the rights of workers across the state.
“We first supported Su’s candidacy to be secretary of labor, and we are confident that she will be a significant asset as the deputy secretary. Especially given the lack of Asian American and Pacific Islander Cabinet secretaries, we will keep up the pressure to ensure that more of our community is visible at the highest levels of government.”