As reported in UCOMM blog, incoming President Biden has made several key appointments that point to an administration that supports labor instead of attacking workers.
Labor Secretary Walsh
Biden announced Boston Mayor Marty Walsh to be his Labor Secretary. Before Walsh was elected Mayor, he was a union leader coming out of Laborers Local 223.
Walsh first joined Local 223 when he was just 21 years old. He worked his way up in the union to become the Local’s President. He then was elected as secretary-treasurer and general agent of the Boston Metropolitan District Building Trades Council, before being elected their President in 2011. He served in that position until 2013 when he announced his run for Mayor. Additionally, Walsh served from 1997 until 2013 as a member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives.
The AFL-CIO issued a statement: “Boston Mayor Marty Walsh will be an exceptional labor secretary for the same reason he was an outstanding mayor: he carried the tools. ..He will have the ear of the White House, the Cabinet and Congress as we work to increase union density and create a stronger, fairer America. From the Boston Building and Construction Trades Council to the Massachusetts State House to the mayor’s office to his own personal journey with overcoming addiction, Marty Walsh has always been a fighter who understands the power of working people standing together for a better life.”
Walsh replaces Eugene Scalia whose tenure as Labor Secretary was antagonistic towards labor and weakened workers' rights. The former corporate lawyer decided that OSHA did not have a role in managing the COVID19 pandemic in workplaces by enforcing CDC guidelines. Under him, the Labor Department changed rules that made easier for firms not to pay workers for overtime, made it easier for restaurants to shortchange waiters on tips, and made it easier for firms not to provide paid sick leave. The definition of "independent contractor" was expanded to make it easier for firms that use contract labor to avoid paying minimum wage, overtime pay, and other benefits. Scalia had replaced Alexander Acosta who resigned in 2019 due to his role in the notorious plea deal for Jeffrey Epstein.
OSHA Lead Frederick
To lead OSHA, Biden selected James Frederick. Fredrick worked for twenty-five years for the United Steelworkers in their health, safety, and environment department. He left the union in 2019 to become a part-time consultant for ORC HSE Strategies, a Washington-based firm that advises companies in safety compliance. With COVID-19 raging, Frederick will be tasked with creating and implementing a COVID worker safety standard.
Wage & Hour Looman
Biden selected Jessica Looman to become the deputy administrator of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage & Hour Division. This department is tasked with investigating cases of wage theft. Looman was the executive director of the Minnesota Building and Construction Trades Council before. She has previously worked as the deputy commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry, and as the general counsel for the Laborers District Council of Minnesota and North Dakota.
Anti-Labor Lawyer Fired
At 12:23 PM on his first day as President, Biden sent NLRB General Counsel Peter Robb a letter asking him to resign by 5:00 PM that day. Robb refused and President Biden announced his discharge. This is the first time that an incoming President has fired the General Counsel that was appointed by their predecessor but Robb is a special case.
Robb was a management-side lawyer and started his career by busting the PATCO union during the Reagan administration.
Robb has been under fire for nearly four years since Trump appointed him. In this position, he decided the cases that the Board would prosecute. While usually, the board went after bad employers, under Robb they went after unions, including a case that became a near obsession to Robb, making inflatables, like Scabby, illegal during union pickets. Organized labor is hoping that by taking such a bold move just minutes after becoming President, Biden is signaling that he will take quick action on labor issues. At the very least, it ensures that the NLRB will stop pursuing cases that will weaken unions.