Alexis Herman

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Alexis Herman
Official portrait of Herman in 1998
Official portrait, 1998
23rd United States Secretary of Labor
In office
May 1, 1997 – January 20, 2001
PresidentBill Clinton
DeputyKathryn O. Higgins
Preceded byRobert Reich
Succeeded byElaine Chao
12th Director of the Office of Public Liaison
In office
January 20, 1993 – February 7, 1997
PresidentBill Clinton
Preceded byCecile B. Kremer
Succeeded byMaria Echaveste
8th Director of the Women's Bureau
In office
April 4, 1977 – January 20, 1981
PresidentJimmy Carter
Preceded byCarmen R. Maymi
Succeeded byLenora C. Alexander
Personal details
Alexis Margaret Herman

(1947-07-16) July 16, 1947 (age 75)
Mobile, Alabama, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
Charles Franklin
(m. 2000; died 2014)
EducationSpring Hill College (transferred)
Xavier University of Louisiana (AB)

Alexis Margaret Herman (born July 16, 1947) is an American politician who served as the 23rd U.S. Secretary of Labor under President Bill Clinton. Herman was the first African-American to hold the position. Prior to serving as Secretary, she was Assistant to the President and Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement.

Herman grew up in Mobile, Alabama. After college, she worked to improve employment opportunities for black laborers and women. She then joined the administration of Jimmy Carter, working as director of the Labor Department's Women's Bureau. She became active in the Democratic party, working in the campaigns of Jesse Jackson and then serving as chief of staff for the Democratic National Committee under Ronald H. Brown. Upon the election of Bill Clinton, she joined his cabinet in 1997.

Following the defeat of Al Gore in the 2000 presidential election, Herman remained active in Democratic politics, in addition to her participation in the private sector, serving on the boards of corporations such as Coca-Cola and Toyota.

Early life and education[edit]

Herman was born on July 16, 1947, in Mobile, Alabama, the daughter of politician Alex Herman and schoolteacher Gloria Caponis,[1] and raised in a Catholic household.[2] Her father became Alabama's first black ward leader.[3] She later recounted how members of the white supremacist group, the Ku Klux Klan, assaulted her father when she was five years old.[4][5] When Herman was growing up in Mobile, schools remained racially segregated.[2] Her parents opted to send Alexis to parochial school, in part because the teachers included white nuns and priests, and thus would expose her to greater diversity.[2]

Herman attended the Heart of Mary High School. As a sophomore, she was suspended for questioning the diocese's exclusion of black students from religious pageants in which white students participated. Following a week of objection from the parents of Herman's fellow black classmates, she was re-admitted.[3]

After graduating from high school, Herman attended Edgewood College in Madison, Wisconsin, and Spring Hill College in Mobile.[6][7] She transferred to Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans, where she became an active member of the Gamma Alpha Chapter of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority[8] and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology in 1969.[9]


After college, Herman returned to Mobile to help desegregate their parochial schools, including the school she herself attended.[10][3] She was then a social worker with Catholic charities in Pascagoula, Mississippi, where she advocated for they city's shipyard to offer training to unskilled black laborers.[2] After Pascagoula, Herman moved to Atlanta, Georgia where she worked as a director of the Southern Regional Council's Black Women's Employment Program, a program designed to promote minority women into managerial or technical jobs.

Later, working at New York based consulting firm RTP, Herman led programs designed to provide apprenticeships for women in nontraditional jobs. At RTP, she met Ray Marshall. After Jimmy Carter won the Presidency in 1977, he and his incoming Labor Secretary Marshall asked Herman to be director of the Labor Department's Women's Bureau.[3] At age 29, she was the youngest person to hold the position,[11][12] which required her to work towards improving business opportunities for women.[13] She worked to encourage corporations to hire more minority women, with companies like Coca-Cola, Delta Airlines, and General Motors making increased diversity a priority in their hiring process.[14][15]

In 1981, at the end of the Carter administration, Herman left her job in the Labor Department and founded the consulting firm, A.M. Herman & Associates.[3] Herman and the firm worked with corporations on a variety of marketing and management issues, including how to develop training programs, marketing strategies, and organizational strategies.[3][16][17] She managed the convention team for Jesse Jackson in his 1984 and 1988 bids for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination.[3] Her role working for Jackson's campaign led Herman to serve as chief of staff to Democratic National Committee Chairman Ronald H. Brown, and later as vice chair of the 1992 Democratic National Convention.[18][3]

Director of the Office of Public Liaison[edit]

Herman walks along the Colonnade of the White House with President Bill Clinton in February 1995

After Bill Clinton's victory in the 1992 Presidential election, Herman became deputy director of the Presidential Transition Office.[19] Clinton then appointed her director of the White House Office of Public Liaison, where she was responsible for the administration's relations with interest groups.[20] In that role, Herman repeatedly organized informal dinners to advance White House initiatives or assuage key groups.[20] She earned the support of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Congressional Black Caucus as part of her outreach efforts.[3] Herman also earned the respect of members of the business community as part of her effort to gain support for the Clinton Administration's trade deal, the North American Free Trade Agreement.[3] Her time as director also included the death of Commerce Secretary, and Herman's former boss at the Democratic National Committee, Ronald Brown in a plane crash. As director, Herman made arrangements for public and private grieving following the death. The tragedy strengthened Herman's bond with Present Clinton, who like Herman had been close to Brown.[18]

Secretary of Labor[edit]

In 1996, President Clinton announced his intention to nominate Herman as Secretary of Labor to replace outgoing Secretary Robert Reich.[10][18] Labor unions publicly supported the nomination, although they had mostly supported other potential nominees such as Harris Wofford, Esteban Edward Torres, and Alan Wheat.[18] Herman's Senate confirmation was delayed twice. The first resulted from questions regarding her role in organizing White House coffees Clinton used as fundraisers. The second was because Senate Republicans refused to allow a vote on her nomination, as part of their opposition to a proposed executive order related to federal construction projects, which Clinton eventually abandoned.[21][22] With the delays over, the Senate Labor Committee held its hearing on her nomination on March 18, 1997.[23][24] Then on April 30, 1997, the Senate voted to confirm by a vote of 85–13.[25] Herman was sworn in on May 9, 1997.[26] She became the first African-American, and the fifth woman, to serve in the position.[26][27]

As Secretary of Labor, Herman oversaw the Department of Labor, which at the time employed 17,000 people and operated on a $39 billion annual budget.[28] The Department of Labor is tasked with enforcing a variety of workplace laws and regulations, including safety issues and anti-discrimination.[29] During Herman's tenure, American unemployment was at its lowest level in decades.[29]

Herman's official U.S. Department of Labor portrait

She earned praise from her peers for her handling of the 1997 United Parcel Service (UPS) workers strike, the largest strike in the United States in two decades.[26][20][29] After the strike began in August, Herman met privately with the Teamsters' president and the UPS chairman to frame the issues. She was an instrumental mediator in the talks, and the strike was settled after 15 days.[20] Herman's role in resolving the strike raised her public profile as she began to pursue her agenda as Secretary.[13]

As secretary, Herman supported the 1996 and 1997 raises to the minimum wage, increasing it by $0.90 to $5.15 per hour by September 1997.[30][31] Herman argued the wage hike increased the buying power of workers.[31] She later opposed a 1999 Republican supported plan to raise the minimum wage over three years, instead supporting a two-year time-table for an increase.[32] Herman also opposed the legislation as it included tax cuts without offsets.[33][32]

Among Herman's responsibilities as secretary was the enforcement of child labor laws.[29] During her tenure, the Department of Labor fined toy store chain Toys "R" Us $200,000 for violating laws restricting the type of work that may be done, and the number of hours that may be worked by underage employees.[34] It found more than 300 teenage employees were working more and later hours than permitted, and Toys "R" Us agreed to stop the practices.[34]

Herman supported the United States' participation in the International Labor Organization's Child Labor Convention, a treaty designed to protect children under 18 years old from slavery, trafficking, bondage, and other abuses.[35] She also defended the United States' support of a provision to allow for voluntary military service of those under 18 years old, a practice allowed in the United States, Great Britain, Germany, and the Netherlands.[36] Opponents, including other nations, trade unions, and Amnesty International urged tougher provisions; however, Herman contended the focus of the treaty should be on forced labor, not voluntary military service.[37]

Attorney General Janet Reno appointed Independent Council Ralph I. Lancaster Jr., in May 1998, to investigate Herman after businessman Laurent J. Yene alleged she accepted kickbacks while working at the White House.[36][38][39] Reno was skeptical of Yene's allegations following a preliminary FBI investigation, but she believed the Independent Council law obligated her to appoint independent council where she could not affirm the claims were without merit.[39] Following a twenty-three month investigation, Independent Council Lancaster concluded that Herman had broken no laws and cleared her of all wrongdoing.[40][36] She was the fifth Clinton cabinet officer to be investigated by independent counsel, and the fourth cleared of all wrongdoing.[36][39] The Independent Council investigations of the cabinet members cost $95 million and did not uncover any felonies, leading Congress to allow the Independent Counsel Act to expire in June 1999 without re-authorization.[39]

Herman was active in Al Gore's 2000 campaign for president.[41] During the Florida election recount, Herman was part of the team planning a transition to a Gore Administration. ABC News and The New York Times considered her a likely candidate to remain in Gore's White House if he won.[42][41] Elaine Chao replaced her as Secretary of Labor in the George W. Bush administration.[29]


Thomas Perez and Alexis Herman participate in a round table discussion of the U.S. Department of Labor's 2012 findings on forced labor and human trafficking, September 30, 2013

Herman served as co-chair of Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry's transition team during the 2004 presidential election.[43] In 2005, Howard Dean, serving as Democratic National Committee Chairman, appointed Herman and lawyer James Roosevelt, Jr. co-chairs of its Rules and Bylaws Committee.[44][45][46][47] The position put Herman and Roosevelt at the center of a dispute between the campaigns of democratic primary candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton over whether to seat delegates from Michigan and Florida at the 2008 Democratic National Convention.[44] Herman endorsed Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Democratic Party Presidential primaries and served as Deputy Parliamentarian at the 2016 Democratic National Convention.[48][49]

From 2001 to 2006, Herman was chairwoman of The Coca-Cola Company's Human Resources Task Force. The following year, Coca-Cola made her a director. Herman served on Toyota's Diversity Advisory Board.[12] In 2006, the company appointed her to head a special task force to ensure the company's compliance with anti-discrimination standards following the resignation of Toyota North America's CEO, after being named the defendant in a sexual harassment lawsuit.[50] Herman served on the boards of other major companies, including Cummins, MGM Resorts International, Entergy, Sodexo, and is the chairman and CEO of New Ventures, Inc.[51]

In 2010, Herman was appointed to the board of the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund, a charitable organization founded by Bill Clinton and George W. Bush to aid Haiti following a magnitude 7.0 Mw earthquake in January of that year.[52] Herman has also been involved with civic groups including the National Urban League and the National Epilepsy Foundation.[53] She has been awarded more than 20 honorary doctorate degrees from academic institutions.[54]

Personal life[edit]

Herman was Queen of Carnival for the Mobile Area Mardi Gras Association in 1974.[55][56][57] Her father had served as King of Carnival in his youth.[56]

Herman married physician Charles Franklin Jr. in February 2000 at the Washington National Cathedral.[58] Franklin had three children from previous marriages. He died in 2014 following an extended illness.[59]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Simmonds, Yussuf (May 29, 2008). "Alexis M. Herman - Los Angeles Sentinel". Los Angeles Sentinel. Retrieved December 21, 2017.
  2. ^ a b c d Wines, Michael (May 12, 1997). "Alexis Herman: Friends Helped Labor Nominee Move Up, Then Almost Brought Her Down". Retrieved January 15, 2018.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Smothers, Ronald (December 21, 1996). "Alexis Herman: Social-Worker Roots and Political Experience". Retrieved January 13, 2018.
  4. ^ "Cabinet Secretary Alexis Herman". March 15, 2007. Retrieved December 30, 2017.
  5. ^ "Alexis Herman recalls her father's beating by the KKK". USA Today. September 21, 2017. Retrieved December 30, 2017.
  6. ^ Henry, Diana (Fall 2016). "Edgewood College Magazine". issuu. p. 7. Retrieved December 30, 2017.
  7. ^ Bracks, Lean'tin (February 1, 2012). African American Almanac: 400 Years of Triumph, Courage and Excellence. Visible Ink Press. ISBN 9781578593804.
  8. ^ "Notable Deltas". Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. Archived from the original on January 20, 2010. Retrieved December 12, 2007.
  9. ^ "Hall of Secretaries: Alexis M. Herman". United States Department of Labor. December 9, 2015. Retrieved December 30, 2017.
  10. ^ a b Lacey, Marc; Silverstein, Stuart (December 21, 1996). "Herman: A Power Behind the Throne". Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved December 23, 2017.
  11. ^ "Women in Government: A Slim Past, But a Strong Future". Ebony: 89–92, 96–98. August 1977.
  12. ^ a b "Workplace Diversity, Inclusion & Recognition". Toyota USA. Retrieved January 13, 2018.
  13. ^ a b Thurman, Skip (August 21, 1997). "Role in UPS Strike Lifts Herman's Low Profile". Christian Science Monitor. ISSN 0882-7729. Retrieved January 27, 2018.
  14. ^ "Cabinet Secretary Alexis Herman". March 15, 2007. Retrieved January 28, 2017.
  15. ^ Snodgrass, Mary Ellen (October 24, 2016). American Women Speak: An Encyclopedia and Document Collection of Women's Oratory [2 volumes]. ABC-CLIO. p. 349. ISBN 9781440837852.
  16. ^ Smith, Jessie Carney; Phelps, Shirelle (1996). Notable Black American Women. VNR AG. p. 288. ISBN 9780810391772.
  17. ^ Snodgrass, Mary Ellen (2016). American Women Speak: An Encyclopedia and Document Collection of Women's Oratory [2 volumes]. ABC-CLIO. p. 349. ISBN 9781440837852.
  18. ^ a b c d Merida, Kevin; Swoboda, Frank (December 21, 1996). " After Pitched Battle, Herman Wins Out". Retrieved December 23, 2017.
  19. ^ "Clinton Presidential Transition, Dec 7 1992 | Video |". December 7, 1992. Retrieved December 30, 2017.
  20. ^ a b c d Merida, Kevin (August 20, 1997). " For Alexis Herman, a Proving Ground". Retrieved December 27, 2017.
  21. ^ "Herman Sworn in as Labor Secretary". Washington Post. May 10, 1997. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved December 23, 2017.
  22. ^ Dewar, Helen (April 30, 1997). "Labor Secretary-Designate Caught in Power Struggle". Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved January 27, 2018.
  23. ^ Doring, Mike (March 19, 1997). "Labor Nominee Breezes Through Hearing". tribunedigital-chicagotribune. Retrieved January 27, 2018.
  24. ^ "Secretary Labor Confirmation Hearing, Mar 18 1997". March 18, 1997. Retrieved January 27, 2018.
  25. ^ Harris, John F.; Swoboda, Frank (May 1, 1997). " Herman Confirmed for Cabinet After Concession by President". Retrieved December 24, 2017.
  26. ^ a b c " Politics -- The Administration, Alexis M. Herman". 1998. Retrieved 2017-12-24.
  27. ^ "Alexis M. Herman". Retrieved December 23, 2017.
  28. ^ Mustard, David B. (2003). Racial Justice in America: A Reference Handbook. ABC-CLIO. p. 124. ISBN 9781576072141.
  29. ^ a b c d e Taylor, T. Shawn (January 28, 2001). "Secretary Of Labor". tribunedigital-chicagotribune. Retrieved January 21, 2018.
  30. ^ Pellegrini, Frank (September 1, 1997). "Lowest-Rate Workers Get Labor Day Raise". Time. ISSN 0040-781X. Retrieved January 20, 2018.
  31. ^ a b "Minimum wage jumps to $5.15". September 1, 1997. Retrieved January 20, 2018.
  32. ^ a b Associated Press (November 2, 1999). "2 in Cabinet Push Minimum Wage Bill Veto". Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved January 20, 2018.
  33. ^ "Senate Passes GOP Wage Hike". November 9, 1999. Retrieved January 20, 2018.
  34. ^ a b Associated Press (December 2, 1999). "Toys R Us Slapped With $200,000 Fine for Hundreds of Child Labor Violations". Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved January 22, 2018.
  35. ^ "U.S. Signs Child Labor Treaty". December 2, 1999. Retrieved January 22, 2018.
  36. ^ a b c d "Another Cabinet Member Cleared". tribunedigital-chicagotribune. April 8, 2000. Retrieved January 21, 2018.
  37. ^ Olson, Elizabeth (June 18, 1999). "U.N. Agency Adopts Treaty on Child Labor". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved January 22, 2018.
  38. ^ "Clinton Questioned About Herman". tribunedigital-chicagotribune. September 8, 1999. Retrieved January 21, 2018.
  39. ^ a b c d Jackson, Robert L. (April 6, 2000). "Labor Secretary Cleared After Bribery Probe". Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved January 22, 2018.
  40. ^ Lewis, Neil A. (April 6, 2000). "Labor Secretary Is Cleared in Inquiry on Kickbacks". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved December 27, 2017.
  41. ^ a b Seelye, Katharine Q.; Broder, John M. (November 23, 2000). "Counting the Vote: The Vice President; Gore Has Decided to Start Engines of His Transition". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved December 30, 2017.
  42. ^ ABC News (December 3, 2000). "Bush Meets Congressional Leaders". ABC News. Retrieved December 30, 2017.
  43. ^ Fournier, Ron (October 21, 2004). "Kerry maps postelection plan - The Boston Globe". Retrieved December 30, 2017.
  44. ^ a b Parsons, Christi (May 30, 2008). "Inside a party's family feud". tribunedigital-chicagotribune. Retrieved January 21, 2018.
  45. ^ Cook, Nancy (May 29, 2008). "Who's Who on the Rules and Bylaws Committee". Retrieved January 21, 2017.
  46. ^ MyDD: Vote Counting the DNC Rules & Bylaws Committee Archived 2008-06-04 at the Wayback Machine
  47. ^ Crowley, Candy; Hornick, Ed; Mooney, Alexander; Preston, Mark; Rubin, Josh; Schneider, Bill (May 31, 2009). "It's decision day for Democrats". Archived from the original on May 31, 2008. Retrieved June 21, 2018.
  48. ^ Cottman, Michael (February 3, 2016). "Clinton Gains Support From 170 African American Women Leaders". NBC News. Retrieved January 23, 2018.
  49. ^ Nagle, Kate (July 25, 2016). "NEW: Raimondo Named One of Six Democratic Convention Co-Chairs". GoLocalProv. Retrieved January 23, 2018.
  50. ^ Kageyama, Yuri (May 9, 2006). "Toyota President Steps Down Amid Lawsuit". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved January 27, 2018.
  51. ^ "Alexis Herman Former Secretary of Labor". Retrieved July 6, 2018.
  52. ^ "Clinton Bush Haiti Fund Appoints Board of Directors and CEO". Hope Through Healing Hands. March 10, 2010. Retrieved January 27, 2018.
  53. ^ Venable, Cecilia Gutierrez (16 September 2013). "Herman, Alexis Margaret (1947-- )". Retrieved January 27, 2018.
  54. ^ "Diversity Leadership Congress: The Honorable Alexis M. Herman". Retrieved July 3, 2018.
  55. ^ "Mobile Area Mardi Gras Association". Archived from the original on February 24, 2012. Retrieved January 21, 2017.
  56. ^ a b Hoffman, Roy (February 19, 2012). "MAMGA queen 1940 looks back at age 90 on the elegance and festivity of first black Mardi Gras". Retrieved January 16, 2018.
  57. ^ Hoffman, Roy (January 19, 2010). "JaMarcus Russell to be crowned King Elexis I by Mobile Area Mardi Gras Association". Retrieved January 16, 2017.
  58. ^ Grove, Lloyd (February 15, 2000). "The Reliable Source". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved December 23, 2017.
  59. ^ "Charles L. Franklin Jr.'s Obituary on The Washington Post". June 6, 2015. Retrieved December 23, 2017.

External links[edit]

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Preceded by Director of the Women's Bureau
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Preceded by Director of the Office of Public Liaison
Succeeded by
Preceded by United States Secretary of Labor
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Preceded byas Former US Cabinet Member Order of precedence of the United States
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