By Don McIntosh
For the first time in four decades, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) is headed by a former union leader. On March 22, the U.S. Senate confirmed Biden nominee Marty Walsh, a former president of Boston-based Laborers Local 223 and former leader of the Boston Building Trades Council. The vote to confirm him was 68-29, with all Democrats and 18 Republicans in favor. Walsh was sworn in the next day.
Labor secretary is a cabinet post, which means that Walsh will meet regularly with the president. Walsh will also be in charge of over 17,000 federal employees at the DOL. DOL is a conglomerate of more than two dozen federal agencies that enforce over 180 federal laws, including laws on minimum wage and overtime, occupational safety and health, workers’ compensation, Davis-Bacon prevailing wage, whistle- blower protections, employee benefit security, and standards for the election of union officers.
Walsh, 53, is the son of Irish immigrants, and credits his father’s union health coverage for his recovery after surviving lymphoma as a child. Following in his father’s footsteps, he joined Laborers Local 223 at age 21 and worked as a laborer on the South Boston waterfront. He held public office as well as union office, serving 16 years in the Massachusetts legislature, and the last six years as mayor of Boston.
“I spent my entire career fighting for working people, and I’m eager to continue that fight in Washington,” Walsh said in press conference following the Senate vote.
“Secretary Walsh is a dues-paying, card-carrying, second-generation member of the Laborers’ International Union of North America whose dedication and devotion to the cause, the purpose, and the mission of the labor movement is unwavering,” said Laborers General President Terry O’Sullivan in an official statement on the confirmation. “I am confident that he will restore and re-energize the Department of Labor’s role as a powerful guardian of workers, and strong and effective enforcer of labor laws.”