The United States Department of Labor is part of the executive branch of the federal government of the United States. This Cabinet-level department has the responsibility of dealing with issues that arise concerning standards for:

  • wages and hours worked
  • occupational safety
  • re-employment services
  • unemployment insurance benefits
  • economic statistics
  • work-related rights and benefits
  • conditions in the workplace.

The Labor Department’s purpose is also to uphold, endorse and advance the well-being of United States citizens by implementing regulations and directives that impact wage earners, citizens seeking employment and retirees. (See also: What Are the Pros and Cons of Raising the Minimum Wage?)

The Department of Labor is authorized to enforce and administer over 180 federal laws and thousands of federal regulations, affecting at least 125 million wage earners and 10 million employers.

Duties of the Secretary of Labor

As the head of the Department of Labor, the Secretary of Labor seeks to improve the lives of working individuals by:

  • Overseeing and managing the functions of the Department of Labor with regard to laws affecting the workplace, unions, and issues pertaining to business-to-employee relationships
  • Enforcing current laws
  • Making recommendations for new laws
  • Enforcing safety standards for the workplace
  • Facilitating the analyzing and recording of job statistics
  • Overseeing the dispensing of unemployment compensation benefits
  • Testifying to the United States Congress on matters having to do with employment and labor
  • Generating legislation and presenting it to Congress through the President.

How Does a Person Become Secretary of Labor?

The way a person gets this position is as a candidate nominated by the President of the United States. A majority vote by the U.S. Senate must confirm the nomination. Once sworn in, the Secretary of Labor reports directly to the President.

What Experience Does the Secretary Need to Have?

The President can choose nominees for Secretary of Labor with any type of experience. For example, the person nominated may have had a background in law, economics, education, business, the military or previous government service. Though the pool of nominees tends to contain seasoned bureaucrats, the President is under no obligation to choose a Washington “insider.”

However, there is at least one restriction. It is important to note that in order to prevent any sitting members of Congress from serving in the Cabinet, there is a clause in the United States Constitution called the Ineligibility Clause. It says that no person may be a cabinet member while serving in Congress. This is part of the separation of powers enshrined in the Constitution.

How Much Does a Secretary of Labor Make?

According to the federal website, in 2015 outgoing Labor Secretary Thomas Perez (who was nominated by President Barack Obama) had an annual salary of $199,700.

How Long Does a Secretary Stay in Office?

Traditionally, Secretaries of Labor resign when a new President is elected and takes office. The President has the right to dismiss the Secretary at any time and appoint a replacement.

The purpose of the position of Labor Secretary is to improve the quality of life for citizens working in the United States. However, the Secretary has great leeway in determining what would improve the quality of life for citizens, and may work closely with the President in interpreting the mandate of the office of Secretary of Labor.

The Secretary may work for or against healthcare benefits in the workplace, may foster or inhibit overtime pay, and may take actions that encourage higher-paying jobs or create lower-paying jobs. In addition, the Secretary weighs in on conflicts regarding businesses regulations. 

In other words, the Secretary of Labor does not enter office with an agenda that is handed down, and may in fact reverse the positions of the previous Secretary. This position is one that may create and enforce policy. (See also: Buffett "Overwhelmingly" Supports Trump Cabinet Appointees.)