New Jersey Jewish News
Jewish values inform view of new labor commissioner
From his executive offices on the 13th floor at the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development in Trenton, David Socolow has a sweeping view of the curving river shoreline, the capitol complex, and the city beyond.
Its the best view in Trenton, Socolow said as he sat behind his desk, bringing such gusto to his words that he might have been referring to something else as well his prominent new role as the states commissioner of labor and workforce development.
The 37-year-old Socolow, who was named acting commissioner of labor by Gov. Jon Corzine last January, was elevated to the position of commissioner during July 24 swearing-in ceremonies at the State House in Trenton. As commissioner, he oversees a staff of some 3,700 employees in a department whose purview encompasses workforce development, economic development, wage-and-hour protection, labor policy, social insurance, and occupational health and safety.
Ive spent a lot of my time on these issues, and I love the challenge of trying to help workers and trying to help the economy, Socolow said. This is a department with a tremendous set of services that make a big difference in peoples lives, and thats really what my whole career has been about.
Socolow has spent the past 15 years laying the groundwork for his new role. Prior to serving as acting commissioner of labor, he directed the Unemployment Insurance Division of the department, and prior to that, he worked for the deputy secretary of the United States Department of Labor. From 1996 to 2000, Socolow was chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Robert Andrews (D-NJ), the ranking Democratic member of the House Subcommittee on Employer/Employee Relations, working on such issues as pensions, wage-and-hour protection, and occupational safety.
Raised in Princeton, where he celebrated his bar mitzva at The Jewish Center, Socolow holds a bachelors degree from Harvard University and a masters degree in public administration from Rutgers University. He resides in Moorestown with his wife, Erin, a speech pathologist, and their two children, Stephen, four, and Clare, one. His mother, Elizabeth Socolow, lives in Lawrenceville.
Running like a thread through the fabric of his career, according to the new commissioner, is a value he learned from his father, Robert Socolow, a longtime professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Princeton University.
My dad always talked about tikun olam, he said. Its really whats animated my life trying to heal and repair the world.
At the close of his swearing-in ceremonies, Socolow recalled, Msgr. John Gilchrist of the Archdiocese of Newark a Roman Catholic priest he described as the unofficial pastor of the labor movement expressed a wish for him.
It was one of the most touching moments in my entire professional life, Socolow said. He said, May he be a tzadik [righteous man]. My dad had tears in his eyes. It was really very touching. It was very nice to see that he sort of gets what Im about. There is a moral and ethical basis for some of the core ideas we uphold here at the labor department protecting people, taking care of the needy, and trying to make the world a better place.
As he takes up those challenges, job creation is high on Socolows agenda. My goals are, first and foremost, economic growth to try to create jobs, to help the business community of New Jersey, and to help the workers of New Jersey by providing the structure of state government necessary for job creation, he said. The goal is to play to New Jerseys strengths and to make sure that our state continues to have a good supply of high-wage good jobs and to continue to spur economic growth.
Currently, New Jersey has fairly good numbers an unemployment rate of just 5.1 percent and a workforce of 4.1 million people, according to Socolow. He said he would like to enhance those numbers by focusing on training and job development in specific sectors, including the life sciences, transportation, finance, tourism and hospitality, and alternative energies.
We want to have a clear-eyed strategy about where these industries are going and how the state can be of help to them, he said. My number-one goal is to see job creation in those sectors.
Beyond the issues of economic and workforce development and occupational safety, the biggest issue on his plate is wage-and-hour protection, Socolow added. Workers have to be paid a fair wage, he said. We make no apologies for enforcing the law. All employers ought to be competing on a level playing field.
One thing were really interested in cracking down on is some of the abuses, such as misclassifying workers as contract workers or day laborers, he said. Its fraud, and were out to try to crack down on that.
As it competes with other states on the economic playing field, New Jersey has a leg up, in Socolows view. The number-one thing we have to offer is a talented workforce and a higher-educated workforce than other states, he said.
He feels enormously grateful to be at the helm of the department whose mission is to develop and protect that workforce, Socolow added.
Its the dream job of my life, he said. I love these issues. I love helping people, and I feel I can make a difference in this role. Im very passionate about this. This is my heart and soul.
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