Assistant Secretary for Employment and Training Administration: Who is Portia Wu?

Sunday, April 06, 2014

On December 12, 2013, President Barack Obama nominated Portia Y. Wu to be assistant secretary of Labor for the Employment and Training Administration (ETA). This agency administers job-training initiatives, including paying for training for first-time workers or retraining for those seeking new skills because of job displacement. Wu was confirmed by the Senate April 2, 2014.


Wu was born July 23, 1970, in New Haven, Connecticut, to An-Ya Shih Wu and Tom Wu, both of whom were physicians. Both of her parents spent most of their careers working at the Veterans’ Administration hospital in Albany, New York.


Portia Wu grew up in Delmar, New York, winning a $300 first-prize in a piano competition when she was in 10th grade. Wu graduated from Bethlehem Central High School in 1987. She went on to Yale, from where she graduated in 1991 with a B.A.  Wu then went to Cornell, where she received an M.A. in comparative literature in 1993. She then returned to New Haven for law school, receiving her J.D. from Yale in 1998.


Wu clerked until 1999 for Judge Richard Paez, then serving on the bench of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. Later, while on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, Paez wrote the opinion blocking many of the provisions of Arizona’s anti-immigrant SB 1070 law.


After her clerkship, Wu went into the private sector, working as an associate in the law firm of Bredhoff & Kaiser until 2003. Wu then took a post as a Congressional staffer, working for the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee and its chairman, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Massachusetts), and later Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa). She served as labor and pensions counsel, chief labor and pensions counsel and labor policy director and general counsel during her tenure, which ended in 2010.


Wu then was named vice president of the National Partnership for Women and Families, an organization that promotes health care, reproductive rights, workplace fairness and workplace policies such as paid sick days and paid family leave. Wu served in that post until 2011, when she moved to the White House.


Her first job in the executive branch was as the senior policy advisor for mobility and opportunity at the White House Domestic Policy Council. In 2012, Wu was named special assistant to the president for Labor and Workforce Policy.


Wu married Brad Peniston on April 21, 2007.

-Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

Statement of Portia Wu, Confirmation Hearing Before Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee (pdf)


Leave a comment