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AFL-CIO Mulls Call for Labor Secretary’s Head Over Teen Sex Deal

Feb. 26, 2019, 12:27 PM

The leaders of the country’s largest labor unions will convene today to discuss whether the AFL-CIO should call for embattled Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta to resign, sources tell Bloomberg Law.

The AFL-CIO in an executive council meeting will poll union leaders on Acosta, who’s facing swirling public criticism over his role in a decade-old plea deal for accused teen sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein. A federal judge ruled Feb. 21 that Acosta, then the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, and other prosecutors violated federal law by failing to keep Epstein’s alleged victims informed of the agreement.

Some of the AFL-CIO’s member unions, including the American Federation of Teachers, and a handful of Democrats already have urged Acosta to step down. Others are said to be concerned about opening the door for Deputy Labor Secretary Patrick Pizzella. It’s widely believed the Republican operative who cut his teeth working with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff would take a more aggressive stance against workers and unions.

“There’s never a question they could fill a position with someone ideologically opposed to the mandate of the agency,” a senior labor union official told Bloomberg Law. “The fact is, Acosta committed a crime. We believe the lives of young women matter. It’s not a moment for political calculation.”

A November Miami Herald report on the case renewed public attention to the allegations against Epstein, who was accused of running a teen sex ring out of his Florida home. His lawyers eventually hatched a deal that allowed the well-connected hedge fund manager to serve 13 months on state prostitution charges and avoid convictions for more serious federal crimes. Prosecutors didn’t tell Epstein’s alleged victims—36 were identified, ranging in age from 14 to 19 years old—about the deal until after a judge approved it.

The Herald report also brought new criticism to Acosta, who as lead prosecutor is said to have helped orchestrate the agreement. Although lawmakers were aware of the Epstein case when the Senate voted to confirm Acosta last year, ramped-up public scrutiny of the plea deal and a new Justice Department investigation have brought renewed attention to the situation.

Acosta has said through a DOL spokeswoman that he welcomes the new investigation and stands by his work as a federal prosecutor. The spokeswoman said the Justice Department has backed Acosta’s actions through three administrations.

‘Best Possible Decision’

The AFL-CIO would join a growing chorus of calls for Acosta to resign, but it’s not clear what, if any, impact their decision will have on his future in the Trump administration. Acosta was said to be in consideration for U.S. attorney general before President Donald Trump selected William Barr. He’s also widely believed to be interested in a federal judge seat.

Acosta made the “best possible decision and deal” in a “very complicated case,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters Feb. 22. Trump later the same day called Acosta “a fantastic labor secretary.”

The former National Labor Relations Board member and law school dean has worked steadily to put the Trump administration’s stamp on labor policy in nearly two years on the job. But he hasn’t moved as quickly to overturn the Obama administration’s worker-friendly approach as some business lobbyists would like.

The AFL-CIO is an umbrella labor organization whose members include a wide range of unions representing 12.5 million farm workers, teachers, grocery store employees, and call center operators, as well as nurses, actors, and airline pilots, among others. Although affiliates largely support Democratic candidates and policy initiatives, individual unions and their members run the gamut of political positions.

To contact the reporter on this story: Chris Opfer in New York at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jay-Anne B. Casuga at; Terence Hyland at