Joe Biden launched his presidency with a full slate of nominations for Cabinet officers and senior advisors on domestic and foreign policy. The women and men who now occupy these positions reflect our new president’s commitment to put the welfare of working Americans at the forefront of his administration’s agenda.
This priority is nowhere more evident than in President Biden’s selection of Martin “Marty” Walsh, mayor of Boston, as secretary of labor.
Like Biden, Walsh arose from the Irish-American working class of America’s northeastern corner. Prior to his first election as mayor a little over seven years ago, he served as president of
Laborers Local 223 while simultaneously representing his Dorchester district in the Massachusetts House of Representatives. During much of this period he also led Boston’s Building and Construction Trades Council, a coalition of labor unions.
From the time he joined the Laborers Union when he was 21 years old, Walsh never stopped pushing for legislation to protect collective bargaining rights and empower more people to improve their lives by joining unions. He fought for the $15 minimum wage, paid family leave and access to protective equipment for frontline workers. And, as a childhood survivor of lymphoma, he has shown that he understands the critical importance of health care for working families.
Understandably, the announcement of Walsh’s appointment was met with cheers from the nation’s labor community.
As secretary of labor, Walsh oversees federal regulation of occupational safety, wage and hour standards, unemployment insurance benefits, reemployment services, and statistics relating to the economic welfare of working Americans. His department also sets rules for the operation of labor unions.
It is about time for the Labor Department to be led by someone who sympathizes with those who perform labor at least as much as those who seek to profit from it.
It is also time for the government of the United States to act decisively to make it easier, not harder, for workers to organize for their own protection and advancement.
In recent decades, powerful corporations have learned to exploit weaknesses in antiquated labor laws, allowing them to isolate, harass and intimidate those who seek a voice in their workplace. As a result, union membership has fallen in recent decades while working people possess a shrinking share of the nation’s wealth.
Given his long history of service to working families, we expect Secretary Walsh will use his new office as a megaphone for stopping, once and for all, the 40-year campaign to smear unions and hamper their effectiveness. With millions of Americans forced to take jobs with menial wages, this is the moment to make it possible for them to join unions and improve their pay, working conditions and access to quality health care.
In announcing his nomination of Marty Walsh as labor secretary, then President-elect Biden said:
“Marty understands, like I do, the middle class built this country and unions built the middle class… [He] knows worker power means not just protecting the right to unionize, but encouraging unionization and collective bargaining.
“The Fair Labor Standards Act way back didn’t just say you can have a union, it said the government should encourage the formation of unions. It also means protecting pensions, ensuring worker safety, increasing the minimum wage, and ensuring workers are paid for the overtime they’ve earned.”
At the same time, Biden announced his nomination of Gina Raimondo, governor of Rhode Island and a lifelong supporter of worker empowerment, as secretary of
“The daughter of a working-class family who knows what it’s like when her parent’s factory job was shipped overseas, she never took her parents’ sacrifices for granted,” Biden said. “She always remembers where she came from.
“She became a successful entrepreneur who created jobs on Main Street and brought businesses back from the edge. She became a state treasurer who invested in local communities and took on financial predators. And today she’s one of the most effective forward-thinking governors in the United States of America, the first woman ever to lead the Ocean State.”
With people like Biden, Walsh and Raimondo in charge, working Americans who have endured a long, dark winter are at last catching a warm glimpse of spring.
Less than half an hour after assuming the presidency, President Joe Biden demanded the resignation of Peter Robb, general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). When Robb refused, he was fired immediately.
Robb was notorious for his anti-union views and interpretations of labor law. He hindered the agency to the point unions stopped filing complaints for fear Robb would exploit them to set anti-labor precedents.
The following day, Alice Stock became acting general counsel and also was asked to resign by Biden. When she refused, she was fired as well.
Ironically, both Robb and Stock complained they were terminated without just cause in much the same way they let anti-union companies do to their employees.
Under federal law, the five board members who comprise the NLRB cannot be fired by the president unless they demonstrate “neglect or malfeasance in office,” but its general counsel and deputy can be fired because those appointees serve at the pleasure of the president.
At press time, Biden has named Peter Sung Ohr as the agency’s acting general counsel. He served as regional director of the agency’s Chicago office.