A Profile of Julie Su

Posted by on May 18, 2023 in People and Culture, Stuff You Should Know

Have you heard of Julie Su? She is President Biden’s nominee to head the U.S. Labor Department, to replace Marty Walsh. Walsh stepped down as the Secretary of Labor in February 2023. Currently, Su is the Labor Department’s Deputy Secretary. Here, btw takes a closer look at her life and career.  

Who is Julie Su? 

Su was born the daughter of immigrants in Madison, Wisconsin, in 1969. Her mother was from China and her father was born in Taiwan. (Interesting fact: in addition to English, Su also speaks Mandarin and Spanish.) When Su was young, the family moved to Los Angeles, California. Su went on to graduate from Harvard University Law School in 1994. 

Su’s career began as a lawyer for low-wage and immigrant workers. She also worked at a legal aid nonprofit in Los Angeles, California. While there, Su was responsible for spearheading a 1995 case that shut down a garment sweatshop that employed more than seventy undocumented Thai workers. This prompted her to start a nonprofit organization called Sweatshop Watch, which has brought hundreds of cases against sweatshops on behalf of low-wage and undocumented women workers. For this work, she received a Skadden Foundation Fellowship, and a grant from the McArthur Foundation in 2001.

The Road to the Cabinet 

From 2011 to 2018, Su served as the California Labor Commissioner. She gained attention when she fought to stop United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement from conducting immigration raids inside Labor Commission offices across the state.  She then became secretary of the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency until 2021. Since then, _Su has worked as the U.S. Deputy Labor Secretary. In that role, she helped to fight for paid family leave, widespread health care, and expanding legal services for workers who have been exploited.  

More than 250 business leaders signed a letter sent to the Senate asking them to confirm Su’s nomination to the role of Labor Secretary. The letter was signed by executives from major U.S. companies. It also stated that there is a concerning lack of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) representation in government at all levels. For example, according to a recent report, even though more than six percent of Americans identify as AAPI, they make up only about 0.9 percent of elected leaders. Su’s confirmation was also supported by several labor unions, including the United Mine Workers and AFL-CIO. 

Improving Representation 

If the Senate confirms Su, she will join other advisors to the president with AAPI heritage. These include U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai; Office of Science and Technology policy director Arati Prabhakar; and Vice President Kamala Harris. 

Dig Deeper Who was the first AAPI member of a presidential cabinet? What year were they appointed, to what role, and under which president?