|23rd United States Secretary of Labor|
May 1, 1997 – January 20, 2001
|Preceded by||Robert Reich|
|Succeeded by||Elaine Chao|
|Director of the Office of Public Liaison|
January 20, 1993 – February 7, 1997
|Preceded by||Cecile Kremer|
|Succeeded by||Maria Echaveste|
|Director of the Women's Bureau|
|Preceded by||Carmen Rosa Maymi|
|Succeeded by||Lenora Cole Alexander|
|Born||Alexis Margaret Herman
July 16, 1947
Mobile, Alabama, U.S.
Spring Hill College
Xavier University, Louisiana (BA)
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 Carter administration, working in the Labor Department's Women's Bureau. She became active in Democratic politics, working on 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 administration.
Following the defeat of Al Gore in the 2000 presidential election, Herman remained active in Democratic politics. She also became active in the corporate world, serving on the boards of corporations such as Coca-Cola and Toyota.
Early life and education
Herman was born on July 16, 1947, in Mobile, Alabama, the daughter of politician Alex Herman and schoolteacher Gloria Caponis, and raised in a Catholic household. Her father became Alabama's first black ward leader. She later recounted how members of the white supremacist group the Ku Klux Klan assaulted her father when she was five years old. When Herman was growing up in Mobile, schools were still racially segregated. 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.
Herman attended the Heart of Mary High School. As a sophomore, she was briefly suspended for questioning the diocese's exclusion of black students from religious pageants in which white students competed. After graduating high school, Herman attended Edgewood College in Madison, Wisconsin, and Spring Hill College in Mobile. She transferred to Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans, where she became an active member of the Gamma Alpha Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta sorority and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology in 1969.
After college, Herman returned to Mobile to help desegregate their parochial schools, including her old high school. She then worked for Catholic Charities in Pascagoula, Mississippi, where she advocated for a shipyard to train unskilled black laborers. 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. At age 29, she was the youngest person to serve in that position. It required Herman to work towards improving business opportunities for women. She worked to get 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.
In 1981, at the end of the Carter administration, Herman left her job in the Labor Department and founded her own consulting firm - A.M. Herman & Associates. The firm focused on helping corporations develop training programs. She managed the convention team for Jesse Jackson in his 1984 and 1988 bids for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination. Her role working for Jackson's campaign led to Herman serving as chief of staff to Democratic National Committee Chairman Ronald H. Brown and later as vice chair of the 1992 Democratic National Convention.
Director of the Office of Public Liaison
After Bill Clinton's victory in the 1992 Presidential election, Herman became deputy director of the Presidential Transition Office. After taking office, Clinton appointed her director of the White House Office of Public Liaison, where she was responsible for the administration's relations with interest groups. In that role, Herman repeatedly organized informal dinners to subtly push White House initiatives or assuage key groups. She earned the support of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Congressional Black Caucus as part of her outreach efforts. 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. 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.
Secretary of Labor
In December 1996, President Clinton announced his intention to nominate Herman as Secretary of Labor to replace outgoing Secretary Robert Reich. Labor unions publicly supported the nomination, although they had mostly supported other potential nominees. Herman's confirmation was delayed twice: first because of questions regarding her role in organizing White House coffees Clinton used as fundraisers, then because Senate Republicans refused to allow a vote on Herman's nomination as part of their opposition to a proposed executive order, which Clinton eventually scrapped. With the delays over, the Senate Labor Committee held its hearing on her nomination on March 18, 1997. Then on April 30, 1997, the Senate voted to confirm by a vote of 85-13. Herman was sworn in on May 9, 1997. She became the first African-American, and the fifth woman, to serve in the position.
At the time of Herman's tenure, the Department of Labor employed 17,000 people and operated on a $39 billion annual budget. The Department of Labor is tasked with enforcing a variety of workplace laws and regulations, including safety issues and anti-discrimination. During Herman's tenure, American unemployment was at its lowest level in decades.
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. After the strike began in August, Herman met privately with the Teamsters' president and the UPS chairman to frame the issues. She was instrumental in talks, serving as a mediator. The strike was settled after fifteen days. Herman's role in resolving the strike raised her public profile.
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. Herman argued the wage hike increased the buying power of workers. 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. Further, Herman opposed the legislation as it also included tax cuts without offsets.
Among Herman's responsibilities as secretary was to enforce child labor laws. During her tenure, the Department of Labor fined toy store chain Toys "R" Us $200,000 for violating child labor laws. It found more than 300 teenage employees were working more and later hours than permitted by law. The violations mostly took place at stores in Massachusetts and Toys "R" Us agreed to stop the practices which caused the violations. In another action to strengthen child labor laws, 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. 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. 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.
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. 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. Following a twenty-three month investigation, Independent Council Lancaster concluded that Herman had broken no laws and cleared her of all wrongdoing. She was the fifth Clinton cabinet officer to be investigated by independent counsel, and the fourth cleared of all wrongdoing. 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.
Herman was active in Al Gore's 2000 campaign for President. During the Florida election recount, Herman was part of the team planning a transition to a Gore Administration, and ABC News and The New York Times considered her a likely candidate to remain in Gore's White House if he won. Elaine Chao replaced her as Secretary of Labor in the George W. Bush administration.
Herman served as co-chair of Democratic Presidential nominee John Kerry's transition team during the 2004 presidential election. 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. 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. Herman endorsed Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Democratic Party Presidential primaries and served as Deputy Parliamentarian at the 2016 Democratic National Convention.
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 has served on Toyota's Diversity Advisory Board. 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. Additionally, Herman has 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.
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 massive earthquake in January of that year. Herman has also been involved with civic groups including the National Urban League and the National Epilepsy Foundation. She has been awarded more than twenty honorary doctorate degrees from academic institutions.
Herman married physician Charles Franklin Jr. in February 2000. President Clinton attended the ceremony. Franklin had three children from previous marriages. Franklin died in 2014 following an extended illness.
- List of African-American United States Cabinet Secretaries
- List of Female United States Cabinet Secretaries
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- U.S. Department of Labor Biography
- Private Attorney Chosen To Investigate Alexis Herman, CNN, AllPolitics, May 26, 1998
- Clinton questioned in Alexis Herman investigation, CNN, September 8, 1999
- CONGRESSIONAL RECORD—SENATE S3409, April 22, 1997
- Jonathan Karl on the possible 'sleeper case' in the election dispute, CNN, December 3, 2000
- Appearances on C-SPAN
|Director of the Office of Public Liaison
|United States Secretary of Labor