ATA chief speaks out against US Secretary of Labor nominee in 2nd letter to Congress

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ATA chief speaks out against US Secretary of Labor nominee in 2nd letter to Congress
Julie Su, center, takes her seat for a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions confirmation hearing for her to be the Labor Secretary, on Capitol Hill, Thursday, April 20, 2023, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

WASHINGTON — In a letter to leaders of both houses of Congress, American Trucking Associations President and CEO Chris Spear outlined why the organization is against Julie Su as the nominee to serve as U.S. Secretary of Labor.

This is the second such letter Spear has sent to Congress.

Spear called the trucking industry “a linchpin of the American economy that relies on the flexibility of a business model that empowers more than 350,000 owner operator and independent contractor entrepreneurs to grow their own businesses.”

More than 80% of U.S. communities rely entirely on trucking to meet their freight needs, and the industry moves 72.2% of the economy’s total tonnage each year, Spear noted, adding that over the next decade, trucks will be tasked with moving 2.4 billion more tons of freight than they do today.

More than 90% of the motor carriers who move that freight operate fleets of six or fewer trucks, and many entered into the industry as independent contractors and have continued to operate in that capacity, according to the ATA.

“As we highlighted in a March letter to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, we have grave concerns over Ms. Su’s role in implementing California’s disastrous AB5, which essentially outlawed this business model for trucking,” Spear wrote. “Her responses to questions posed during Committee consideration of her nomination and a lack of outreach to the business community she would be charged with regulating have failed to reassure the trucking industry on how she would approach such an existential issue if confirmed to lead the Department of Labor.”

On, March 15, President Biden called Julie Su a “real leader” who has supported unions, enforced worker safety and protected the victims of human trafficking.

“Julie is the American dream,” the president said in remarks at the White House. “She’s committed to making sure that dream is in reach for every American.”

Todd Spencer, president and CEO of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, has also expressed his concern over Su’s nomination, saying the Senate should “reject her nomination in order to protect the livelihoods and careers of the hard-working truckers we represent.”

Circling back to the ATA, Spear’s letter implored congressional leaders to take a hard look at Su before confirming her nomination.

“(Small trucking) companies are vitally important to our supply chains, and the flexibility that the business model offers those working as independent contractors attracts women, minorities and immigrants to fulfilling careers as truck drivers,” Spear wrote. “The trucking industry must oppose any nominee who considers California’s AB5 a successful policy. That state bill was designed to strip independent drivers of the freedom of choice to operate as contractors. It wreaked havoc on tens of thousands of small businesses. It forced families to leave California to preserve their incomes and their way of life. Its destruction of the ecosystem of independent contractors in California would be an unparalleled disaster for our supply chains if rolled out nationwide.”

Spear added that “Freight would cease to move, and the American dream for hundreds of thousands of small businessmen and women could be eradicated. The freight economy is highly cyclical with seasonal surges and variability in consumer demand, and it is complicated by chronic shortages of equipment and other resources. Trucking is only able to meet consumer expectations — and the needs of families, businesses, and entire economic sectors — with the support of independent contractors.”

Spear wrote that “the flexibility of independent contracting empowers women, minorities, and immigrants to build businesses as they see fit. Sikh drivers in northern California and Somali drivers in Minnesota are two shining examples of vibrant communities that have taken advantage of the freedom and opportunity available to trucking entrepreneurs. They are as much a part of the trucking industry and supply chain as any employee driver.”

Spear noted that the trucking industry “will continue to fight against regulations at the federal and state levels that threaten the independent contractor business model.”

“We remain concerned by the notice of proposed rulemaking published by the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division in October 2022, because it would likely have a similar effect as California’s AB5 unless the Administration changes course,” Spear wrote. “Ms. Su already has significant authority over that rulemaking in her current position as Deputy Secretary of Labor and would have nearly complete authority to author a final rule if confirmed as Secretary.”

Spear concluded his letter by writing that “Our nation’s truckers cannot support her elevation to that position given her demonstrated willingness to eliminate the independent contractor business model and throw supply chains into chaos, and her unwillingness to address this matter with the Senate or our industry. Thank you for your attention to these concerns as you consider the nomination. We welcome the opportunity to engage with the Senate on the benefits that protecting the independent contractor business model in trucking have for Americans in all walks of life. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you wish to discuss these issues in greater detail either publicly or privately.”

In a statement, the Truckload Carriers Association has also expressed concern over Su’s nomination “due to her public opposition to the independent contractor business model — which is fundamental to the entrepreneurial DNA of the truckload industry.”


The daughter of an immigrant mother who arrived on a cargo ship, Su said she believes “in the transformative power of America.” She noted that a union job gave her parents a path to the middle class, one that eventually led her to college at Stanford University and law school at Harvard University.

“To all workers who are toiling in the shadows, know that we see you, we stand with you, and we will fight for you,” Su said.

Su, the current deputy labor secretary, would replace the departing incumbent, former Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, whom Biden hailed by saying, “If I ever want anybody in the foxhole with me, I want Marty Walsh.”

A civil rights attorney and former head of California’s labor department, Su was central to negotiations between labor and freight rail companies late last year, working to avert an economically debilitating strike. She also has worked to broaden employee training programs and crack down on wage theft. If confirmed by the Senate, Su would also be the first Asian American in the Biden administration to serve in the Cabinet at the secretary level.

Su was considered to lead the department when Biden won the White House but instead became the department’s deputy. Walsh announced his intention to leave the administration earlier this month to lead the National Hockey League Players’ Association. Su will serve as the acting secretary until the Senate acts on her nomination.

Biden had been under pressure from the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus and other Asian American and Pacific Islander advocates to select Su to head the department. This administration was the first in more than two decades to not have a Cabinet secretary of AAPI descent, despite its regular declarations that it was the most diverse in history. Vice President Kamala Harris and U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai are of AAPI descent but don’t lead a Cabinet department.

Acknowledging twice the push by Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., to have an AAPI Cabinet secretary, Biden joked Wednesday that if he didn’t pick Su, he would be “run out of town.”

Su, if confirmed, would also expand the majority of women serving in the president’s Cabinet. She was confirmed by the Senate to her current role in 2021 by a 50–47 vote.

Su’s nomination drew swift support from Democrats on Capitol Hill, with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer saying Tuesday that she would be “phenomenal” in the job.

“The president couldn’t have picked a better nominee,” he told reporters. “I’m really excited about her, and we’re going to move to consider her nomination very, very quickly.”

But Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy, the top Republican on the Senate health, education and labor committee who opposed Su when she was selected for deputy secretary, called her work overseeing the department “troubling” and “anti-worker.”

The committee should “have a full and thorough hearing process,” Cassidy said.

In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom appointed Su to lead the state Labor and Workforce Development Agency, which included the department responsible for paying unemployment benefits during the pandemic.

The state had massive amount of fraud, estimated at $20 billion. Nearly all of that fraud was part of a hastily approved expansion of unemployment benefits by Congress that state officials said lacked key safeguards. But a state audit also blamed Newsom’s administration for “significant missteps and inaction.”

Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., who chairs the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, said she was “overjoyed” by the selection, thanking Biden in a tweet for “nominating your first AAPI Cabinet Secretary!”

“It certainly is better late than never,” Chu said in a brief interview, citing CAPAC support for Su two years ago for the top Labor post and praising Su’s credentials as a leader and enforcer of labor laws including minimum wage and occupational safety standards. She said GOP criticism about Su had been fully vetted two years ago and that the coming confirmation process will show their charges “have no basis.”

Su’s nomination also comes at a key moment for labor unions, which have been facing a decline in membership for decades. Unions gained some momentum as workers at major employers such as Amazon and Starbucks pushed to unionize. But Biden — an avowed pro-union president — had to work with Congress to impose a contract on rail workers last year to avoid a possible strike.

The Labor Department said just 10.1% of workers last year were union members. That figure has been cut nearly in half since 1983 and could fall further, as younger workers are less likely to belong to unions.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

The Trucker News Staff

The Trucker News Staff produces engaging content for not only, but also The Trucker Newspaper, which has been serving the trucking industry for more than 30 years. With a focus on drivers, the Trucker News Staff aims to provide relevant, objective content pertaining to the trucking segment of the transportation industry. The Trucker News Staff is based in Little Rock, Arkansas.

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The Trucker News Staff produces engaging content for not only, but also The Trucker Newspaper, which has been serving the trucking industry for more than 30 years. With a focus on drivers, the Trucker News Staff aims to provide relevant, objective content pertaining to the trucking segment of the transportation industry. The Trucker News Staff is based in Little Rock, Arkansas.
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