Biden nominates Walsh as labor secretary

Biden nominates Boston Mayor Marty Walsh as labor secretary  

President-elect Joe Biden (D) announced last week that he would nominate Boston Mayor Marty Walsh for secretary of labor. Biden’s transition team said Walsh “has the necessary experience, relationships, and the trust of the President-elect to help workers recover from this historic economic downturn and usher in a new era of worker power.”

Walsh has served as the mayor of Boston since 2014. He was a member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, chair of the Massachusetts Democratic Party Labor Caucus, and the co-chair of the Special Commission on Public Construction Reform. Walsh was also a union leader, serving as the head of the Laborers’ Union Local 223 and the Building and the Boston Metropolitan District Building Trades Council. 

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) said Walsh’s nomination “was especially welcomed by our union, as we threw our support behind the mayor soon after Biden won the election.” AFSCME President Lee Saunders said, “Secretary-designate Walsh understands the contributions public service workers make to the strength and vitality of our communities. On behalf of the 1.4 million AFSCME members, I am proud to support him and look forward to working with him.”

According to John Logan, a professor of labor and employment relations at San Francisco State University, Walsh “has supported many progressive causes, such as greater police accountability, declaring racism a public health issue, tackling wage theft, championing workplace safety in the construction industry, using city contracts to promote diversity, and pushing parental leave for city employees.” 

Logan says Walsh is “significantly more progressive than many former building trades officials” and says Walsh could “bridge the various sections of the labor movement, which is currently more divided than almost ever before. … The AFT, AFSCME, AFL-CIO, and building trades do not agree on too much; but they all agreed on Marty Walsh for Secretary of Labor.”

According to Politico, United Auto Workers, Utility Workers Union of America, National Nurses United, Communications Workers of America, and United Farm Workers of America backed other candidates for the position.

Sean Higgins, a research fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, responded to the nomination, “Joe Biden’s decision to nominate Boston Mayor Marty Walsh as Labor Secretary will elevate a person to oversee the nation’s workplace who is not merely pro-union, but who sees the purpose of public office as working to represent the interests of unions. The interests of business leaders, entrepreneurs, independent workers and voters in general will take a back seat.” 

The last time a union member served as secretary of labor was in 1977, according to the Northwest Labor Press. W.J. Usery Jr. was a member of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.

Biden and Walsh on public-sector unions and Janus v. AFSCME

Biden’s campaign website laid out the following labor policy priorities: 

As president, Biden will establish a federal right to union organizing and collective bargaining for all public sector employees, and make it easier for those employees who serve our communities to both join a union and bargain. He will do so by fighting for and signing into law the Public Safety Employer Employee Cooperation Act and Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act. He will work to ensure public sector workers, including public school educators, have a greater voice in the decisions that impact their students and their working conditions. He will also strongly encourage states to pursue expanded bargaining rights for state licensed and contracted workers, including child care workers and home health care workers. And, he will look for federal solutions that will protect these workers’ rights to organize and bargain collectively.

In a 2019 Labor Day message, Walsh referenced the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2018 decision in Janus v. AFSCME

Janus was just the start. The regulators who killed overtime for low-income workers and let Walmart fire people for organizing? The trade wars that devastate truck drivers and farmers? The government shutdown that bankrupted federal employees and contractors? Their new plan is to deregulate apprenticeships — the hard-earned credential that your careers and paychecks are built on — turned into nothing more than a piece of paper. Who will be left to speak up for you, when your rights are gone?

What we’re reading

The big picture

Number of relevant bills by state

We are currently tracking 26 pieces of legislation dealing with public-sector employee union policy. On the map below, a darker shade of green indicates a greater number of relevant bills. Click here for a complete list of all the bills we’re tracking. 

Number of relevant bills by current legislative status

Number of relevant bills by partisan status of sponsor(s) 

Recent legislative actions

Below is a complete list of relevant legislative actions taken since our last issue.

  • Maine LD52: This bill would allow educational policies related to preparation and planning time and transfer of teachers to be subjects of collective bargaining negotiations. 
    • Democratic sponsorship. 
    • Introduced and referred to Labor and Housing Committee Jan. 11. 
  • Maryland HB374: This bill would extend collective bargaining rights to faculty at Baltimore City Community College.
    • Democratic sponsorship.
    • Introduced Jan. 13. House Appropriations Committee hearing scheduled for Jan. 27.
  • Maryland SB9: This bill would make revisions to the collective bargaining process for employees of the University System of Maryland.    
    • Democratic sponsorship.
    • Introduced Jan. 13. Senate Finance Committee hearing scheduled for Feb. 4. 
  •  Maryland SB138: This bill would extend collective bargaining rights to employees of the Baltimore County Public Library.
    • Democratic sponsorship.
    • Senate Finance Committee hearing scheduled for Feb. 4.  
  • New Hampshire HB348: This bill would require a public employer to provide notice of a new or amended collective bargaining agreement.
    • Republican sponsorship.
    • Referred to House Labor, Industrial and Rehabilitative Services Committee on Jan. 9. 
  • New York A01804: This bill would alter resolution procedures for disputes that arise during collective bargaining between public-sector employers and unions.
    • Democratic sponsorship.
    • Introduced and referred to Assembly Governmental Employees Committee Jan. 11. 
  • Oregon HB2061: This bill would prohibit public employers and unions from entering into fair-share agreements.
    • Introduced Jan. 11.  
  • Oregon HB2270: This bill would amend the law’s definition of “employment relations” to include class size and caseload limits as mandatory collective bargaining subjects for school districts. 
    • Democratic sponsorship. 
    • Introduced Jan. 11.
  • Oregon SB580: This bill would amend the law’s definition of “employment relations” to include class size and caseload limits as mandatory collective bargaining subjects for school districts.  
    • Democratic sponsorship. 
    • Introduced Jan. 11.
  • Oregon SB679: This bill would amend the law’s definition of “employment relations” to include class size and caseload limits as mandatory collective bargaining subjects for school districts. 
    • Democratic sponsorship. 
    • Introduced Jan. 11.
  • Tennessee SJR0002: This bill proposes a constitutional amendment that would bar any person, corporation, or governmental entity from denying employment due to an individual’s affiliation status with a union or other employee organization.
    • Republican sponsorship.
    • Referred to Senate Judiciary Committee Jan. 13. 
  • Washington SB5055: This bill would prohibit law enforcement personnel from entering into collective bargaining agreements that prevent, prohibit, or otherwise alter local government ordinances or charters providing for “civilian review of law enforcement personnel.”
    • Democratic sponsorship. 
    • Senate Labor, Commerce, and Tribal Affairs Committee hearing held Jan. 14.
  • Washington SB5133: This bill amends the definition of a “confidential employee” for the purposes of collective bargaining.
    • Democratic sponsorship. 
    • Introduced Jan. 8; referred to Senate Labor, Commerce, and Tribal Affairs Committee Jan. 11. 



About the author

Jerrick Adams

Jerrick Adams is a staff writer at Ballotpedia. Contact us at editor@ballotpedia.org.