The United States Department of Labor is part of the executive branch of the federal government of the United States. It is one of several executive cabinet departments under the leadership of the president of the United States. The secretary of labor and other cabinet department leaders collectively form the president’s advisory cabinet. The Department of Labor and its leader, the secretary of labor, are responsible for dealing with issues that arise concerning U.S. federal standards for:

  • wages and hours worked
  • occupational safety
  • re-employment services
  • unemployment insurance benefits
  • economic statistics within the labor market
  • 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. 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. They are also responsible for lobbying for new U.S. federal labor legislations to be passed by Congress.

Within its operating capacity, the U.S. Department of Labor includes several agencies and departments that are also a part of fulfilling its goals. Some of its most noteworthy departments include:

The Federal Department of Labor can also communicate with state labor departments. Across the U.S., each state has its own Department of Labor and Department of Labor leaders along with their own state labor laws.

Duties of the Secretary of Labor

The Office of the Secretary of Labor is one of the many departments within the Federal Department of Labor. The Office of the Secretary and the Office of the Deputy Secretary comprehensively lead and oversee all Department of Labor activities.

As the head of the Department of Labor, the secretary of labor is charged with responsibility for:

  • Overseeing and managing the functions of the Department of Labor collectively 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

Key Takeaways

  • The U.S. secretary of labor position is controlled by the U.S. president and is a part of the president’s executive cabinet of leaders.
  • The U.S. secretary of labor oversees all activities of the Department of Labor.
  • The U.S. labor secretary’s annual salary is $199,700.

How Does a Person Become Secretary of Labor?

As a U.S. cabinet department, the leader of the Department of Labor is 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 of the United States. As a cabinet leader, the secretary of labor can be discharged at any time by the U.S. president.

What Experience Does the Secretary Need to Have?

The president can choose nominees for secretary of labor with any type of experience. There is no required background needed. As such, a person nominated may have had a background in law, economics, education, business, the military, or previous government service. In general, the pool of nominees tends to contain seasoned professional and political bureaucrats with various backgrounds.

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 executive 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 the Secretary of Labor Make?

According to the federal website, in 2017, Labor Secretary Alex Acosta (who was nominated by President Donald Trump) had an annual salary of $199,700.

How Long Does a Secretary Stay in Office?

The secretary of labor role has no fixed year term. Traditionally, the secretary of labor resigns or is replaced by a new delegate when a new president is elected and takes office. The president appoints the labor secretary and can replace him or her at any time, as is the case for all executive cabinet leaders.

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 goals 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 federal labor regulations and interpretations that affect all types of businesses.