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US Senate panel advances Biden’s labor secretary choice, opposed by gig worker apps

US Senate panel advances Biden's labor secretary choice, opposed by gig worker apps © Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Julie Su appears before a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on her nomination to be Labor Secretary, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., April 20, 2023. REUTERS/Amanda Andrade-Rhoades

(This April 26 story has been corrected to show that the trade group Flex (NASDAQ:) has not taken an official position on the nomination in paragraph 11)

By Daniel Wiessner

(Reuters) – A U.S. Senate committee on Wednesday voted along party lines to advance President Joe Biden’s nominee for U.S. labor secretary, Julie Su, to the full Senate for what will be a close vote due to heavy opposition by Republican lawmakers and business groups worried about regulation of the gig economy.

The Democrat-led Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee voted 11-10 to approve Su, a civil rights lawyer and former California labor commissioner who has served as a deputy labor secretary since 2021.

Su needs at least 50 votes in the Senate, where Democrats have a slim 51-49 majority and it was unclear whether she will muster the support of several moderate Democrats.

Biden’s nominee to lead the U.S. Labor Department office that enforces wage laws failed to win Senate confirmation last year after industry opposition and Democratic defections.

If Su is confirmed, she will replace Marty Walsh, who stepped down as labor secretary last month to become executive director of the National Hockey League players’ union.

Biden and supporters of Su’s nomination, including labor unions, have cited her record in California of cracking down on wage theft, protecting trafficked workers and enforcing workplace safety standards.

In California, Su supported state laws that classified some independent contractors as employees entitled to benefits such as a minimum wage, sick time and healthcare. Using contractors can be up to 30% cheaper for companies than employees.

The U.S. Department of Labor proposed a similar federal rule in October that is expected to be finalized in the coming months.

Industry groups representing companies in the ride-hailing, delivery and other sectors using contractors have launched an aggressive campaign to oppose Su’s nomination.

Kristin Sharp (OTC:), CEO of trade group Flex, whose members include Uber Technologies (NYSE:) Inc, Lyft Inc (NASDAQ:) and DoorDash Inc, said in a statement that Su has not sufficiently addressed concerns about her position on worker classification. Flex has not taken an official position on Su’s nomination.

“The next Labor Secretary must embrace the flexible earning opportunities that app-based platforms have unleashed for millions of Americans,” Sharp said.

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