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Trump provokes outrage with plan to nominate ex-Walmart attorney Eugene Scalia as next Labor Secretary

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“The Labor Dept should be a champion for workers, not corporations that pay minimum wages.”

Workers and labor rights advocates expressed outrage after President Donald Trump announced on Twitter late Thursday that he intends to nominate former Walmart attorney Eugene Scalia—son of the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia—to replace outgoing Labor Secretary Alex Acosta.

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Less than a week after Acosta announced his resignation following days of controversy over a sweetheart plea deal he struck with alleged child rapist Jeffrey Epstein, Trump revealed his nomination plans in a pair of tweets, claiming that Scalia “has led a life of great success in the legal and labor field.”

The president’s announcement came as a surprise to some politicians and observers who had expected Patrick Pizzella—Acosta’s deputy who is temporarily leading the Labor Department—to receive a formal nomination for the role.

Scalia reportedly accepted Trump’s offer. The 55-year-old is currently a partner in the Washington, D.C. office of the corporate law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher.

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According to The Associated Press:

In private practice, Scalia has been known for his challenges to federal regulations on behalf of corporate clients. Scalia’s law firm biography cites his “success bringing legal challenges to federal agency actions.”

If confirmed, Scalia will be returning to the department where he previously served as solicitor in President George W. Bush’s administration, overseeing litigation and legal advice on rulemakings and administrative law. He has also worked for the U.S. Department of Justice. From 1992-93, Scalia served as a special assistant to Attorney General William Barr during his first stint as attorney general.

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Heidi Shierholz, senior economist and director of policy at the Economic Policy Institute, said in a statement Friday that Scalia “has spent his career fighting for the interests of financial firms, corporate executives, and shareholders rather than the interests of working people.”

“He actually argued in court against the ‘fiduciary’ rule, the Department of Labor rule that would have simply required retirement advisers to work in the best interest of their clients—outlawing common practices such as financial advisers steering retirement savers toward investments that provide a good commission, but a lower rate of return,” Shierholz pointed out. “This is another fox-guarding-the-hen house selection that defines the Trump cabinet.”

Like his infamously far-right father, the younger Scalia “is a member of the Federalist Society, a conservative legal organization that has attained enormous influence within the Trump administration,” The New York Times reported Thursday.

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“The appointment is likely to be contested by Democrats and labor unions because Mr. Scalia has a long record of representing Walmart and other companies that pushed back against unions and tougher labor laws,” the Times noted. “In 2006, he helped Walmart triumph in a prominent fight against a Maryland law that would have required companies with more than 10,000 workers to either spend at least 8 percent of their payroll costs on healthcare, or pay into a state Medicaid fund.”

Scalia’s history with Walmart—and his broader record as an advocate for corporate interests—sparked swift calls for the Republican-held U.S. Senate to reject his nomination.

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“This guy was a management-side attorney for Walmart—one of the most anti-union and anti-worker corporations in our country,” tweeted Aryeh Alex, a local public official from Ohio. “The Labor Dept should be a champion for workers, not corporations that pay minimum wages.”

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Eunic Ortiz, national political communications lead at the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), also referenced the Walmart case in a tweet:

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Given his record, critics concluded Scalia “has no business representing working people as your next Secretary of Labor.”
Eugene Scalia worked for Walmart as an attorney — one of the most anti-union and anti-worker corporations in America. This man has no business representing working people as your next Secretary of Labor.

President Trump has again chosen someone who has proven to put corporate interests over those of worker rights,” Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) said Thursday. “Workers and union members who believed candidate Trump when he campaigned as pro-worker should feel betrayed.”

This post has been updated with comment from the Economic Policy Institute.

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