Cornell University

January 25 2013

Obama Names Harris ’83

Alum serving in nation's lead labor position

Seth Harris '83 has been named acting secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor.

The department's deputy secretary since May 2009, Harris will serve in the position from which Hilda Solis resigned.

He is expected to continue in the position until President Barack Obama nominates a new secretary who is confirmed by the Senate.

Yesterday, in an email to department employees, Harris wrote, "Our goals in the department are stability and continuity … our mission has never been more important than it is today."

"Let's work together to carry it out, to help the people and organizations that depend on us, and to continue rebuilding America's economy."

Before joining the labor department, Harris was a New York Law School professor and director of its Labor & Employment Law Programs.

His scholarship on the economics of labor and employment law has been particularly focused on employment provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The 2010 recipient of ILR's Groat Award, Harris served for seven years at the labor department during the Clinton administration in key positions, including counselor to the secretary of labor.

Harris's other professional roles include labor policy-advising positions in the Clinton Administration.

"Every new job I take is harder than the last," said Harris, the child of union members. His mother was a high school librarian and his father was a high school social studies teacher.

At age 10, Harris developed a passion for politics and began working on campaigns.

In high school, his interest in the social sciences led to ILR. "It struck me as a near-perfect fit," he said in an interview three years ago.

At ILR, "I figured out who I was and what I wanted to be."

"Collective bargaining, economics – I use that stuff today," he said. "The ILR School is still an important presence in my life. I think of the people in ILR as extended family."

Other lessons learned along the way: "I am always going to be more successful in doing work that I believe in. The people I met in my 20s are the people who have helped me succeed in my 30s and 40s. The path to success is paved with perseverance."

"Ending up in the job I'm in today really calls on all of those lessons," he said.