President Joe Biden has chosen a former harsh critic of Florida’s unemployment system to oversee the national programs that states use to fight joblessness, including those that focus specifically on young people.
Biden tapped former Florida state Sen. José Javier Rodríguez for assistant secretary of labor for employment and training. If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Rodriguez would lead the Labor Department’s Employment and Training Administration, a 1,000-worker agency with a multibillion-dollar budget and sweeping responsibilities.
Among those are apprenticeships, Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act programs, YouthBuild and Job Corps, all of which support workforce investment in youth and young adults.
The Miami Democrat would replace John Pallasch of Kentucky, who worked for two years during the Trump administration to cut some youth employment dollars but to increase money for internships.
During the height of the pandemic, Rodríguez appeared before a U.S. Senate committee and slammed Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and DeSantis’ predecessor Rick Scott, saying both Republicans had willfully allowed the Florida unemployment agency’s problems to fester “for a long time.” One result, he said, was lengthy and preventable delays in getting enhanced unemployment benefit checks out to desperate thousands.
Rodríguez lost his bid for re-election to the state Senate last year to Republican state Sen. Ileana Garcia by 34 votes.
That election is now the subject of an ongoing public corruption case involving former state Sen. Frank Artiles, who allegedly recruited and paid a no-party candidate to sway the outcome, according to the Miami Herald. The trial is set for next month. Garcia has not been accused of wrongdoing.
“If confirmed by the Senate, it would be the honor of a lifetime to serve my country at the Department of Labor and join the Biden-Harris Administration in ensuring a strong and competitive workforce,” Rodríguez said in a statement early this month.
He is currently working as an attorney at the Sugarman & Susskind firm in Miami, where he represents employees and labor unions and handles pension and benefit funds. He holds a law degree from Harvard.