Alexis Herman is a Democratic Party operative and former United States Secretary of Labor in the Bill Clinton administration. She held multiple positions in the Clinton and Carter administrations, and has taken senior roles with the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and other Democratic political efforts. Since leaving government, Herman has also sat on the board of numerous major companies.
Alexis Herman was born on July 16, 1947 in Mobile, Alabama. While schools were segregated in Mobile growing up, Herman was sent to a racially-mixed Catholic school. She graduated from Heart of Mary Catholic High School in 1965. She first attended college at Edgewood College in Madison, Wisconsin and then transferred to Spring Hill College in Mobile. She once again transferred colleges, this time to Xavier University in New Orleans, Louisiana where she settled in and graduated with a BA in Sociology in 1969.
After graduating college, she was involved in the desegregation of schools in Mobile. She also worked as a social worker for Catholic Charities and other agencies that encouraged the employment of women.
Early Political Career
In 1977 at the age of 29, she was appointed as the director of the Women’s Bureau in the Labor Department by President Jimmy Carter. Her portfolio included pressuring major companies to hire more women.
When Carter was defeated in 1980 by Ronald Reagan, Herman left government. She formed a consulting firm, A.M. Herman and Associates, which advised state and local governments on labor markets. She also advised businesses on human resources related issues, often profiting from the same job-training grants she awarded while serving in government.
In 1984 and 1988, Herman worked for the presidential campaign of left-wing activist Jesse Jackson, handling his Democratic National Convention strategies. Jackson’s Operation Push—a predecessor organization of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition–organization later allegedly pressured companies to hire her consultancy in order to “diversify” their workforces; those which did not found themselves the target of boycotts.
Her work impressed Ron Brown, who hired her to become deputy chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee when he became chairman. While Brown was out raising money for the party, Herman was running the day to day operations of the DNC. In 1992, she was responsible for organizing the Democratic National Convention. 
After the election of President Bill Clinton in 1992, she was appointed director of the White House public liaison. Part of her job was to bring together special interest groups in support of Clinton administration initiatives. In that capacity, she earned the support of the NAACP and the Congressional Black Caucus. She also earned the respect of the business community through her work advancing the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
White House “Coffees” Scandal
Part of her tenure was overshadowed a significant cloud. She helped organize a series of infamous “White House coffees” that helped raise money for President Clinton’s legal defense fund and the Clinton-Gore reelection effort. Those coffee meetings between 1994 and 1996 were held at the White House and featured many high-dollar Democratic Party donors. In total, there were 68 such meetings and they alleged raised over $600,000. Lawmakers from both parties alleged that the Clinton administration was involved in selling access to President Clinton at these meetings.
Nearly 1000 individuals were allegedly present at these coffee meetings. Half of the participants were either part of the finance and political divisions of the DNC and White House respectively, while the remainder were Democratic fundraisers. Many of these donors later came under investigation for their roles in violating campaign finance laws and possible ties to foreign governments. Herman was present at many of these meetings. A White House computer system was used to keep track of the political meetings, which many claimed was a violation of ethics rules.
Secretary of Labor
After President Clinton’s reelection in 1996, Herman was appointed Secretary of Labor. She would be the first African-American to serve in that role. Herman’s confirmation was threatened by questions about the White House “coffees” and Herman’s alleged misuse of her DNC expense account to purchase things such as first-class travel, deluxe accommodations, and personal entertainment. Critics also questioned her $500,000 profit from a share of a Washington development project she received for providing minority-contracting advice, without an initial investment.
Labor unions initially opposed her nomination, believing she was too pro-business. Ultimately, they would support her nomination after some persuasion by the Clinton administration’s allies in the civil rights movement. 
Herman also faced a roadblock when Senate Republicans delayed her hearings over her scandals and as part of a fight with the Clinton administration over an executive order. The administration attempted to write an executive order that would deny nonunion companies from winning federal construction contracts. The Clinton administration backed off the order and Herman was confirmed.
Herman’s most notable action as Labor Secretary was her controversial resolution of the UPS strike in 1997. She helped mediate a settlement between the workers and the company in less than two weeks, averting major economic damage.
In 1998, Ralph Lancaster Jr. was appointed as an independent counsel by Attorney General Janet Reno to investigate allegations that Herman had accepted kickbacks and solicited illegal donations for the Democratic Party. Laurent Yene, a Cameroonian businessman, alleged that Herman agreed to accept money in exchange for steering federal contracts to his company. He also alleged that Herman pressured him and his business partner, Vanessa Weaver, to pressure the firm’s clients to donate to the Democratic Party. Many of those clients were foreign citizens and accepting donations from them is a violation of campaign finance law. Lancaster announced in 2000 that he would not seek an indictment against Herman.
McAuliffe and the Democratic National Committee
In 2001, she was a part of DNC chairman Terry McAuliffe’s “transition team” after he won the position. Both her appointment and McAuliffe’s victory were seen as a way for the Clintons to maintain control of the DNC after leaving the White House.
In 2003, she was hired by McAuliffe to serve as a broker between him and the Congressional Black Caucus after an abortive attempt to fire 10 black staffers earlier that year. The proposed layoffs had angered the CBC, leading members to even question McAuliffe’s ability to serve as DNC chairman.
In 2004, Herman served on the presidential campaign of Sen. John Kerry (D-Massachusetts) as an economic adviser. Herman served on the Kerry transition team in case of victory and was seen as a possible Commerce Secretary. In the wake of Kerry’s defeat, she declined to run for DNC chairwoman.
In 2005, she was appointed co-chair of the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee with James Roosevelt, Jr. by DNC Chairman Howard Dean. She played an important role in settling the dispute over the seating of Florida and Michigan’s delegates in 2008 after they were disqualified for moving their primaries up. 
In 2008, as a Virginia super-delegate Herman remained neutral in the primary battle between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. In 2016, she was a strong supporter of Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid. She helped hold a rally for her in South Carolina. Later she served as parliamentarian for the 2016 Democratic National Convention.
Herman currently serves on the boards of numerous companies. Among those companies are the Coca-Cola Company, Cummins Inc., Entergy Corporation, and MGM Resorts International. She serves as CEO and Chair of New Ventures LLC, a corporate consulting company. She is also currently represented by the Washington Speakers Bureau.