‘Basically cops’: Biden Labor nominee created an armed police force to prosecute wage theft in California
Thomas Catenacci, DCNF
- Julie Su, President Joe Biden’s nominee for deputy secretary of labor, created a police force made up of several armed officers to investigate and prosecute labor crimes in California.
- “The unit is made up of sworn peace officers who are basically cops,” Su wrote in an academic journal.
- Su accused California district attorneys, who file criminal cases, of not taking labor-related crimes as seriously as robberies, rape and domestic violence.
- “I’ve been doing this for 25 years and have dealt with many clients,” Brad Neufeld, a California-based labor attorney, told The Press-Enterprise. “I’ve never once had a client who was threatened with criminal prosecution.”
President Joe Biden’s nominee for deputy secretary of labor created a police force made up of several armed officers to investigate and prosecute labor crimes.
Julie Su, California’s current Labor and Workforce Development Agency secretary, created the Criminal Investigation Unit (CIU) in 2012 despite pushback from experts that the independent police force was unnecessary. Su argued that introducing a labor police force would help bolster the state’s ability to pursue wage theft — when employers don’t pay wages owed to workers — and other labor-related cases, The Press-Enterprise reported at the time.
“The unit is made up of sworn peace officers who are basically cops,” Su wrote in an academic journal in 2015. “When we first implemented the unit, newspaper headlines warned of armed Labor Commissioner deputies coming to get employers in California and arrest them for crimes. And, well, we are!”
Su accused California district attorneys, who file criminal cases, of not taking labor-related crimes as seriously as robberies, rape and domestic violence.
“This raises the stakes when you have a noncompliant employer who steals wages or employs minors or bounces paychecks,” Su said after first introducing the CIU, according to The Press-Enterprise. “We need to make it costly when employers violate these laws.”
Su noted that the California labor department lacked the ability to persuade district attorneys to pursue criminal cases, according to The Press-Enterprise. Her agency could only issue citations and fines.
“This creates a stronger relationship between our office and the district attorneys,” Su said, The Press-Enterprise reported. “They’ll be getting well-investigated support information.”
In 2016, Su said there were dozens of ongoing felony labor cases filed by district attorneys working with the CIU, according to an interview with the San Francisco Building and Construction Trades Council. The California Department of Justice credited the CIU with uncovering a criminal fraud ring to obtain garment licenses in 2019.
Su said the CIU was “instrumental” in the case.
Several labor experts, including former California state Rep. Douglas Bosco, opposed the creation of the CIU in 2012, according to The Press-Enterprise. Bosco said using the criminal justice system for this purpose was a mistake.
“The labor commissioner can call a DA. They have access to DAs and the state attorney general,” said Bosco, who is also an attorney and a former member of California’s Industrial Welfare Commission, The Press-Enterprise reported. “That’s how things are structured.”
The creation of the CIU was really part of Su’s effort to crack down on misclassification of independent contractors in the state, Brad Neufeld, a California-based labor attorney, told The Press-Enterprise.
“I’ve been doing this for 25 years and have dealt with many clients,” Neufeld said, according to The Press-Enterprise. “I’ve never once had a client who was threatened with criminal prosecution.”
President Joe Biden nominated Su to serve as second in command of the Department of Labor in February. Su’s nomination, however, has faced significant roadblocks in Congress due to her alleged mishandling of California’s unemployment insurance program, Bloomberg Law reported.
“As California Labor Commissioner from 2011 through 2018, Su enforced the state’s labor laws to ensure a fair and just workplace for both employees and employers,” the White House said in a statement. “A report on her tenure released in May 2013 found that her leadership has resulted in a renaissance in enforcement activity and record-setting results.”
The announcement didn’t include mention of the CIU.
Vice President Kamala Harris has been outspoken in criticizing police and advocating for criminal justice reform in recent years. She said police departments should be “reimagined” when asked about defunding the police after George Floyd died in Minneapolis police custody in May.
Many progressives voiced their support for defunding police forces nationwide in the aftermath of Floyd’s death.