Marty Walsh Confirmed as New US Labor Secretary

On 22 March, former union leader and two-term mayor of Boston Marty Walsh was confirmed in the Senate as the new Labor Secretary. Here’s what you need to know about his priorities.

On 22 March, Marty Walsh was confirmed by the U.S. Senate as the Secretary of the Department of Labor by a 68-29 vote. A union leader and former two-term mayor of Boston, his office will play a critical role in rebounding the economy as the COVID-19 crisis winds down. Here’s what you need to know about the new Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh.

With the U.S. unemployment rate above 6%, strengthening the workforce is likely to be the top priority for Secretary Walsh. Part of this will be workplace safety for employees, and efforts are already underway to strengthen employee protection with the Labor Department launching a new enforcement program designed to monitor companies where workers are at high risk of COVID-19 exposure. This program will prioritize protecting employees who face retaliation after reporting safe or unhealthy workplace conditions, signaling a more employee-focused approach to workplace protections. Make sure to read Worldwide ERC®’s Workforce Mobility Safety Framework.

Additional workforce priorities will likely be raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. While the Labor Secretary does not directly set the minimum wage, Walsh will have heavy input on the matter. After negotiations to include a $15 minimum wage in the latest stimulus package fell through, Biden has signaled that it remains a top priority for his Administration. Biden has also prioritized equality and tackling discrimination, which means Walsh could be taking on issues such as universal paid leave, pay equity, affirmative action, and harassment training in the workplace.

We’ll also likely see President Biden prioritize the reversal of some of his predecessor’s Labor rules to better fit his policies and agenda. For example, the Labor Department last year issued a final rule adjusting the joint-employer standard under the Fair Labor Standard Act (FLSA), making fewer workers “joint employees.” The Labor Department under the Trump Administration also narrowed the standards determining if a worker is classified as an independent contractor or an employee. Walsh is expected to roll back these rules.

Despite the rollback of these rules and his union credentials, Walsh was endorsed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and received a largely bipartisan confirmation in the Senate. At his Senate hearing, Walsh emphasized his priorities, stating that "I believe we must act with urgency to meet this moment to strengthen and empower our workforce as we rebuild."

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How This Impacts Mobility

Employers will need to stay abreast of how the Labor Department under Walsh approaches wages, workplace protections, and many of the Trump-era labor rules that are likely to be reversed. These policies will play a critical role as the U.S. economy gets back on its feet and employers work to return to workforce mobility. Should any member have questions, please reach out to our Vice President of Member Engagement and Public Policy Rebecca Peters, rpeters@worldwideerc.org.