The Honorable Elaine Chao, Secretary, U.S. Department of Labor 2001-2009
Elaine L. Chao, the 24th U. S. Secretary of Labor, is the first American woman of Asian descent to be appointed to a President’s Cabinet in our nation’s history. Having served from 2001-2009, she is the longest tenured Secretary of Labor since World War II, and the only member of President George W. Bush’s original cabinet to have served the entire eight years of his Administration.
An immigrant who arrived in America at the age of eight and speaking no English, Secretary Chao’s experience transitioning to a new country has motivated her to dedicate most of her professional life to ensuring that all people have the opportunity to build better lives.
As the first U. S. Secretary of Labor in the 21st century, Elaine L. Chao focused on improving the competitiveness of America’s workforce by restructuring departmental programs to empower workers and modernizing regulations to respond to the realities of the 21st century workplace. Under her leadership, the U.S. Department of Labor achieved record results in protecting the health, safety, wages, and retirement security of the nation's workforce. These results included record low workplace injury, illness and fatality rates, recovering record levels of back wages for workers and monetary recoveries for workers’ pension plans, and obtaining record financial settlements for discrimination by federal contractors.
Secretary Chao successfully directed the Department to update the white collar overtime regulations under the Fair Labor Standards Act, which had been on the agenda of every Administration since 1977. The most significant regulatory tort reform of President Bush's first term, the new regulations provided millions of low-wage, vulnerable workers with strengthened overtime protections. For the first time in over 40 years, the Department updated the union financial disclosure regulations, giving rank and file members enhanced information on the financial condition of their unions.
The Department also launched comprehensive reform of the nation's publicly funded workforce training programs to better serve dislocated and unemployed workers. The Department spearheaded many of the reforms in the Pension Protection Act of 2006 to protect the retirement security of 44 million Americans with defined benefit plans. In record time, the Department processed disability compensation claims to energy workers, and implemented the requirements of the MINER Act, the first major legislation on mine safety in over 30 years. In November 2008, the Department successfully updated the Family and Medical Leave Act for the first time in 15 years, implementing the first-ever job-protected leave rights that allowed America’s military families to care for our wounded warriors. Under Secretary Chao’s leadership, the Department also made it a top priority to increase and protect our soldiers’ civilian re-employment rights, including issuing compliance regulations to fully implement the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), which had been passed in 1994.
In the first successful use of the Taft-Hartley Act since 1971, the Department led the effort to resolve the West Coast ports labor dispute in 2002, which was costing the nation up to $1 billion a day in damages.
Secretary Chao's distinguished career spans the public, private and non-profit sectors. As President and Chief Executive Officer of United Way of America, she restored public trust and confidence in one of our nation's largest institutions of private charitable giving after it had been tarnished by financial mismanagement and abuse. As Director of the Peace Corps, she established the first programs in the newly liberated Baltic nations and the independent states of the former Soviet Union. Her government service also includes serving as Deputy Secretary at the U.S. Department of Transportation, Chairman of the Federal Maritime Commission, Deputy Maritime Administrator, and White House Fellow. Prior to her government service, she was Vice President of Syndications at BankAmerica Capital Markets Group and a banker with Citicorp.
Secretary Chao earned her MBA from the Harvard Business School and an economics degree from Mount Holyoke College.