- President-elect Joe Biden has selected Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, a former construction union leader, to serve as his labor secretary.
- The announcement yesterday noted that if confirmed, Walsh — former head of both Laborers’ Union Local 223 and the Boston Metropolitan District Building Trades Council — would be the first union member to serve in the role in nearly half a century.
- The mayor pledged his support to the working class after his nomination was announced. "Working people, labor unions, and those fighting every day for their shot at the middle class are the backbone of our economy and of this country," he said in a tweet. "As Secretary of Labor, I'll work just as hard for you as you do for your families and livelihoods. You have my word."
The news brought cheers from unions like the AFL-CIO and building trades groups, who lauded Walsh’s decades of experience in the construction industry.
“There is no better decision for U.S. Labor Secretary that President-elect Biden could have made than somebody who has been there, done it, with unquestioned leadership, accessibility, and vast executive experience,” said North America’s Building Trades Unions President Sean McGarvey in a statement emailed to Construction Dive.
The release from Biden’s transition team noted Walsh’s accomplishments in helping workers in Boston, including a fight for a $15 minimum wage and paid family leave, and his commitment to creating “good-paying union jobs” by investing in clean energy. Walsh serves as the chair of Climate Mayors, a coalition of nearly 500 U.S. mayors committed to climate mitigation. In Boston, he has targeted emissions, prepared the city's coastline for sea level rise, prepared vulnerable populations for climate impact and invested in green jobs, he recently told sister publication Smart Cities Dive.
If confirmed, Walsh would take over the department at a critical time for the U.S. workforce, with millions of people out of work and facing the loss of jobless benefits.
"We look forward to working with the new labor secretary as we address significant issues like protecting the safety of the workforce, ensuring the long-term viability of multi-employer retirement plans and making sure construction workers in all parts of the country, including those who choose to work union or open shop, have access to high-quality training opportunities," said Brian Turmail, vice president of public affairs and strategic initiatives for the Associated General Contractors of America, said in a statement.
The Biden administration may revise a number of regulations put into effect by the Trump administration labor department. Such regulations include Fair Labor Standards Act requirements relating to the minimum salary threshold for white-collar overtime exemption, joint employer status and independent contractor qualifications.
Biden's platform called for DOL's Occupational Safety and Health Administration to double the number of investigators and enact emergency temporary standards for workplace safety amid the pandemic, a measure that the AFL-CIO requested in 2020 but a court declined to enforce.
Associated Builders and Contractors CEO Michael Bellaman said his association looks forward to working with Walsh, calling him "a leader who has an extensive career in construction and experience in local government."
"The Department of Labor’s mission is critical in ensuring the safety, equitable treatment and advancement of all American workers without needlessly hindering economic growth," Bellaman said. "Over the coming months, it will be critical to help companies recover from the COVID-19 epidemic, expand job training and careers in construction for displaced workers, and create safe and healthy jobsites benefitting America’s workforce, infrastructure and economy.”
Walsh said recently that other U.S. businesses could learn a lot from watching how construction operated during the pandemic.
“They put incredible safety protocols in place on these jobsites,” he said. “This is really an industry that we can learn from how to reopen — and reopen safely.”
McGarvey noted that as a former construction laborer, Walsh is keenly aware of the health and safety issues facing U.S. workers.
“He will make sure that America’s workers get the proper training and that America’s employers, in partnership, follow the rules so that workers arrive home after work in the same condition as they headed off to work in the morning,” he said.
Portions of this article first appeared on sister website HR Dive.