Walsh confirmed to lead the Labor Department

Boston mayor becomes first union member in decades to lead Labor

Martin Walsh told senators that Boston established a $15 an hour minimum wage, paid sick time and parental leave during his two terms as mayor.
 (Graeme Jennings/Washington Examiner/Pool file photo)
Martin Walsh told senators that Boston established a $15 an hour minimum wage, paid sick time and parental leave during his two terms as mayor. (Graeme Jennings/Washington Examiner/Pool file photo)
Posted March 22, 2021 at 6:33pm

Marty J. Walsh, President Joe Biden’s pick to run the Labor Department, easily won Senate confirmation Monday, with 18 Republicans joining Democrats in support of the Boston mayor.

The Senate voted 68-29 to confirm Walsh, the first union member to be Labor secretary in decades, although it was his collaboration with businesses as Boston’s mayor that attracted Republican support. His confirmation also means Biden will have a full roster of department secretaries at their posts.

“The Department of Labor is in desperate need of a leader with Mayor Walsh’s perspective,” Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said ahead of the vote. “For the past four years under President Trump and Secretary [Eugene] Scalia, unfortunately, sadly the Labor Department has too often sided with corporate America, not the working people of America who it was formed to help. Once the Senate confirms Mayor Walsh, American workers will finally have one of their own leading the Department of Labor — someone from working America who will fight for working America.”

Senate Banking Chairman Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said Walsh will end what he called domination by corporate lawyers during the Trump administration. “That department was full of people who made their careers fighting for corporate boards and CEOs,” he said. “With Marty Walsh, the corporate infiltration of the Department of Labor ends now.”

Republican senators who voted for Walsh told CQ Roll Call that they did so because of his success working with businesses as mayor.

“He worked with business and labor together to create a lot of prosperity in Boston. So that tells me he can work with coalitions or think a little differently,” Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., said in an interview. “Boston has done well.”

Walsh told the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on Feb. 4 that as mayor he brought $43 billion in investments to Boston by working with the private sector. The city also established a $15 an hour minimum wage, along with paid sick time and parental leave during his two terms, he said during the confirmation hearing. 

“He understands labor and he’s worked with businesses,” Sen. Richard M. Burr, R-N.C., told CQ Roll Call. “I think that his background makes him eminently qualified to be the secretary of Labor.”

Walsh, in his testimony before the panel, credited his father’s union job as a construction worker with giving his family a pathway to the middle class. Walsh followed his father into the construction industry and joined the same union local, later becoming its president.

Cassidy and Burr sit on the Senate panel that on Feb. 11 voted 18-4 to advance Walsh’s nomination. Burr is the ranking Republican.

Bill Samuel, government affairs director for the AFL-CIO, said Walsh would be a voice for workers in Biden’s Cabinet.

“Now’s the time to use that platform to advocate for aggressive, structural changes to our economy, from creating millions of good-paying union jobs to holding abusive employers accountable to finally strengthening our right to organize by passing the PRO Act,” he said in a statement provided to CQ Roll Call, using the acronym for the bill’s title, Protecting the Right to Organize Act.

The House on March 9 passed the bill that would expand the workers covered by fair labor standards and allow unions to collect dues from all employees covered by a collective bargaining agreement.

Sustainability groups and investors interested in environmental, social and governance issues previously told CQ Roll Call that they expect Walsh to be an ally. The Labor Department sets rules for employer-sponsored retirement funds, including 401(k) plans and pensions. 

As mayor, Walsh launched Boston’s first green bonds and devoted $200 million in city operating funds to sustainable and socially conscious investments, including short-term bonds and notes of companies with high ESG ratings.

The department this month said it would not enforce a pair of rules adopted in the last months of the Trump administration that would have made it more difficult for retirement fund managers to factor ESG considerations into their investment decisions and oversight of companies. 

Ellyn Ferguson contributed to this report.