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Labor secretary nominee says he’d listen, collaborate and build partnerships

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Washington — Marty Walsh – President Joe Biden’s nominee for labor secretary – highlighted his past efforts supporting employers and workers, along with his cooperation with Republicans and Democrats, during his Feb. 4 confirmation hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

The Boston mayor, addressing that theme of helping both employers and workers, explained how OSHA shouldn’t operate with an “us vs. them” mindset.

“We should be working with OSHA, working with the administration and working with members of this committee to talk about the importance of bringing OSHA back as an agency that is an agency to help workers and help employers and not put in the middle of both,” Walsh said.

New HELP Committee Chair Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) touted the chance to have the “first union leader in decades” head the Department of Labor. Walsh joined Laborers’ Union Local 223 at age 21 and later led the Boston Metropolitan District Building Trades Council. He also served more than 16 years as a Massachusetts state representative until becoming mayor in January 2014.

“As a state representative for 16 years, I worked on economic development and worker protections in collaboration with four Republican governors and one Democratic governor,” Walsh said. “As general agent of the Metropolitan Building Council, I worked with developers and contractors to secure good jobs and major investments.

“Throughout my career, I’ve led by listening, collaborating and building partnerships. That’s how, if confirmed, I will lead the Department of Labor.”

Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), the committee’s new ranking member, said he looks forward to expediting Walsh’s nomination and supporting him. Burr also noted the mayor’s willingness to act like a baseball umpire throughout his career, calling “balls and strikes” on each side.

 

“Our nation can never afford to have a labor secretary that will be accused of being in cahoots with union bosses or beholden to management,” Burr said. “This is a job that requires a labor secretary who’s willing to make a commitment to confront both when necessary. I hope you can commit to doing the job the right way, and I think you can.”

Walsh’s nomination now awaits a vote from the committee – scheduled for Feb. 11 – to advance to the full Senate.

More OSHA inspectors needed

When asked by Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) about a potential OSHA emergency temporary standard on COVID-19 or any legislative remedies, Walsh pointed to the loss of 500 inspectors from the agency’s ranks.

“If we increase standards and don’t increase inspectors, then we really don’t protect the American worker,” Walsh said. “OSHA will be one of the first and top priorities if confirmed.”

In response to a question from Sen. Tina Smith (D-MN), Walsh said federal contractors should be held accountable for worker safety.

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