Labor Department Employees Urge Vote Against Puzder Nomination… But Should They?

Federal employees at the Department of Labor are circulating a letter asking for a vote against President Trump’s nominee for Labor Secretary. The author says that these employees could be potentially jeopardizing their careers in the process.

U.S. Labor Department employees are circulating a letter asking the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee to vote against Andrew Puzder, President Trump’ nominee for Labor Secretary, according to a news article in The Washington Post.

The letter begins:

We are a collection of current and former career civil servants at the U.S. Department of Labor (the “Department”). We write in our capacity as private citizens to express our serious concerns about Mr. Andrew Puzder’s nomination to serve as the Secretary of Labor, and to request that the Committee vote against Mr. Puzder’s nomination.

At the bottom of the online letter, there is space for people to add their names, personal email address, and indicate whether they are a current or former DOL employee.

As Ian Smith pointed out in his February 5 article, Federal Workers Finding Creative Ways to Push Back Against Trump Administration:

The Supreme Court said that free speech by a public official is protected if that individual is engaged as a private citizen, but it is not protected if the opinions are expressed as part of his/her public duties.

ACLU attorney Esha Bhandari also discussed the issue and confirmed what the court said, but noted that federal workers who speak their minds must take care to do so as private citizens rather than as representatives of their agencies.

Even though the letter states that signees are acting as private citizens, this might be disputed if they indicate at the bottom of the letter that they are current DOL employees.

Regardless of whether the Labor Department employees are legally protected, speaking publicly against the nominee raises questions about whether those career federal employees who sign the letter can serve any Labor Secretary in a nonpolitical way.

The U.S. Merit System Protections Board cites Merit System Principles 5 USC § 2301 as stating that employees should be–

  1. protected against arbitrary action, personal favoritism, or coercion for partisan political purposes, and
  2. prohibited from using their official authority or influence for the purpose of interfering with or affecting the result of an election or a nomination for election.

By inserting themselves into the Senate confirmation process, Labor Department career employees could be jeopardizing their protection under the Merit System by involving themselves in a political activity.

From the public’s perception, especially those supporting the Trump Administration, it confirms their worse beliefs that all federal employees are their opposition.

As if to provide proof, The Washington Times just ran an article with the headline: “Trump’s real opposition party: Federal civil servants.”

If career federal employees want to dismantle the present merit system, there is no better way to achieve this goal than by repudiating its principles and acting in such a political manner.


Puzder withdrew his nomination on Wednesday amid growing questions about his business record and scrutiny from senators on both sides of the aisle.

About the Author

Michael Wald is a public affairs consultant and writer based in the Atlanta area. He specializes in topics related to government and labor issues. Prior to his retirement from the U.S. Department of Labor, he served as the agency’s Southeast Regional Director of Public Affairs and Southeast Regional Economist.