- In a 68-29 vote Monday, the U.S. Senate confirmed former Boston Mayor Martin Walsh as secretary of labor. Walsh will be the first union leader to serve in the position in more than 40 years, according to National Public Radio.
- During a post-vote press conference, Walsh, who is scheduled to be sworn in on Tuesday, said he would work for "every single American" in his new position.
- Prior to the vote, some senators spoke to Walsh's qualifications for labor secretary. Sen. Sherrod Brown, Democrat from Ohio, said with Walsh as Secretary of Labor, "Workers will finally have someone on their side." Brown said Walsh can work with OSHA to issue an emergency COVID-19 temporary standard and "crack down on corporations that use subcontracting, independent contractors and other tricks to pay workers less and to deny them benefits."
Brown also highlighted Walsh's union experience and said he can "defend workers' rights to organize, to give them power in the workplace and crack down on corporate union busting."
Walsh's nomination aligns with President Joe Biden's campaign promise to create good union jobs as part of a massive infrastructure plan and economic recovery.
Despite the new secretary's union background, construction organizations that represent open shop employers expressed optimism at the prospect of working with a Walsh Labor Department.
“Secretary Walsh has a construction background and knows our industry, so ABC urges him to work with us to create conditions that benefit the entire industry," said Michael Bellaman, president and CEO of Associated Builders and Contractors, in a press release. "By encouraging the participation of both union and open shop contractors, we can harness the strength and talent of our full construction industry to rebuild America, and the results will be more inclusive and ultimately more successful.”
Walsh's confirmation comes as construction and other industries await a COVID-19-related emergency temporary standard from OSHA. Biden ordered that the agency issue such a standard by March 15. Instead, OSHA issued new guidance through a National Emphasis Program as well as new enforcement procedures.
Attorney Courtney Malveaux, principal in the Richmond, Virginia, office of Jackson Lewis, wrote in a National Law Review article last week that the Department of Labor may have already provided the text of a draft ETS to the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs for review. In that scenario, the turnaround time for an official ETS could be two weeks.