- Labor Secretary Marty Walsh took a worker-first stance in a series of interviews and statements following the introduction of President Joe Biden's American Jobs Plan last week, while calling on workers to get vaccinated and affirming his commitment to organized labor and raising the federal minimum wage.
- After details of Biden's $2 trillion infrastructure plan were released last week, Walsh characterized it as "a historic investment in the working people of America," in a statement. He said "it will create millions of good-paying, family-sustaining jobs that rebuild the middle class by empowering our workers to build America's future." He added, "As a former construction worker, I know a good job can change your life."
- After the country gained 916,000 jobs in March, the labor secretary said it was encouraging news, but that there was still work to be done, including personal actions by workers to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and get vaccinated. "It's really going to depend upon all of us and what we do as far as our behavior, meaning take care of ourselves," Walsh said in an interview with MSNBC. "I do want to encourage people to get vaccinated."
Asked about a potential increase in the $7.25 per hour federal minimum wage, which was excluded from Biden's $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, Walsh said he and the president were still focused on the issue.
"The president is committed to raising the minimum wage. I'm committed to raising the minimum wage. There are members of Congress committed to raising the minimum wage," Walsh told MSNBC. "No family can live on $7 an hour. It's pretty hard to live on $15 an hour," he said. "I think that's a conversation we're going to have to have with business leaders across this country."
Construction employer advocates have said attempts to raise wages in the construction industry are misguided, since those jobs traditionally pay more in the first place. "The median wage for construction trades workers is $22.83 per hour, which is still a hefty 13% higher than the all-occupations median," said Brian Turmail, vice president of public affairs at the Associated General Contractors of America in an email to Construction Dive last week.
He was addressing Biden's call for project labor agreements in the American Jobs Plan, as well as the inclusion of the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, a pro-union bill that recently passed the House of Representatives, but which faces an uphill battle in the Senate.
With the results of a vote to unionize by employees at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama coming as soon as this week — a push Biden got behind in a video release from the White House in February — Walsh again emphasized that while it was up to employees to decide what course they wanted to choose, he and the president supported their right to collective bargaining.
"When you look at the labor movement in this country over the last 50 years, the decline in numbers and you look at the decline in the middle class, there's some correlation there," Walsh said on MSNBC. "So I think people should have the right, should be able to join a union if they want to. And there's a vote process, and that's what's happening at Amazon right now. People took the vote, and we're waiting to see what the result is. And if people voted to unionize, then we should unionize. If people voted not to unionize, then that's what the will of the worker was there."