Spring of 2021 is off to a busy start in Washington, D.C. The Biden-Harris Administration continues working towards union-friendly outcomes and withdrawing and revising Trump-era regulations. On March 22, 2021, in a 68-29 vote, the United States Senate confirmed President Biden’s nominee, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, as the new secretary for the Department of Labor. Following the vote, Walsh stated:
“I share [the Biden-Harris Administration’s] commitment to building an economy that works for every single American. I spent my entire career fighting for working people and I’m eager to continue that fight in Washington.”
Walsh’s actions throughout his career indicate that he desires to improve racial and gender disparities in the workplace. Walsh, a former union worker, served as a leader of the Boston Building and Construction Trades Council from 2011 to 2013. In order to increase diversity in the workplace, Walsh created a program called Building Pathways that provides career opportunities for women and minorities. Walsh also served in the Massachusetts House of Representatives from 1997-2013, where he advocated for workers’ rights.
Walsh began serving as the mayor of Boston in 2014, and his record as mayor demonstrates his commitment to serving working-class Americans and fighting systemic inequality. During his time in office, Walsh created a “learn and earn” job apprenticeship program, with the goal of connecting unemployed and underemployed individuals to unionized positions. He also developed the Office of Financial Empowerment to address poverty and income inequality. Additionally, Walsh was a founding vice-chair of the Cities of Opportunity Task Force at the U.S. Conference of Mayors, a group of U.S. mayors who lobby Washington, D.C. to reduce inequality throughout the country.
Walsh is also a known advocate of increasing the minimum wage to $15.00 per hour, and his home state of Massachusetts has already implemented a plan to achieve said minimum wage by January 1, 2023. Although the secretary of the Department of Labor does not have the authority to establish the federal minimum wage, Walsh’s advocacy of such a standard may be influential, as the Biden-Harris Administration has expressed a commitment to adopting the $15.00 minimum wage.
Following Walsh’s confirmation by the Senate, President Biden nominated Seema Nanda, a former Obama administration official and former deputy special counsel at the Justice Department Civil Rights Division, as the solicitor of labor. As the chief legal officer, Nanda will be tasked with advising subagencies regarding workplace issues. Nanda has previously served as a supervising attorney at the National Labor Relations Board. President Biden has also nominated Julie Su, the current head of California’s workforce agency, for deputy secretary of labor. Su is known for being a strong advocate of workers’ rights and has demonstrated a progressive view in terms of issues concerning employee rights.
What does this mean for the employers? Walsh’s former positions indicate that he will, unlike the preceding administration, likely use the strategies he developed as the mayor of Boston to implement more union-friendly policies on a national level and, therefore, execute the policies advocated for by the Biden-Harris Administration. Additionally, he “believes income and wealth inequality is the biggest economic challenges facing our nation.” His stance with regard to income inequality, diversity, minimum wage, and workers’ rights align with the Biden-Harris Administration’s goals of empowering the workforce. Economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic is currently of major concern for the Department of Labor. A few of the pressing issues that await Walsh concern the distinction between workers as employers and independent contractors and COVID-19 workplace safety. Most notably, however, the issue regarding independent contractors and employees is a major concern for employers. Although Walsh cannot implement the “ABC Test,” which presumes that an individual providing labor or services for remuneration is an employee unless the hiring entity can satisfy a very high bar, Walsh will likely aggressively target the misclassification issue that exists under the current law. Further, Nanda and Su have demonstrated similar viewpoints regarding the misclassification. As such, if Su and Nanda are also confirmed, we can expect to see additional union-friendly policies.
As HR Legalist has previously explained, the Biden-Harris Administration continues to implement union-friendly regulations and appoint pro-union leaders. HR Legalist will continue to monitor and provide updates accordingly.