The Senate on Monday confirmed Boston Mayor Marty Walsh as Secretary of Labor, clearing him to take the helm of the agency amid historic unemployment and economic uncertainty.
“I’m deeply grateful to President Biden, Vice President Harris in their confidence in me and for this opportunity to serve our country in this time in need,” Walsh said during a press conference in Boston following the Senate vote. “I spent my entire career fighting for working people, and I’m eager to continue that fight in Washington.”
The Chamber voted 68-29 to approve Walsh, a former union leader who enjoyed Republican support for his commitment to working with the business community.
“Secretary Walsh will bring with him the experience needed to tackle our current challenges, which include reopening the economy and getting Americans back to work quickly and safely,” said Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, the ranking GOP member on the Senate labor committee. “Secretary Walsh also understands that conversations between labor and management must be balanced.”
Walsh said during the Monday press conference that he would be traveling to Washington on Tuesday to be sworn in and was officially resigning as Boston mayor that evening. He is expected to get to work at the Frances Perkins Building this week.
Unions hailed Walsh’s confirmation as a transition to a more worker-friendly Labor Department.
“For four years, working families have lived with a Labor Department devoted to serving a handful of elite interests,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka in a statement on Walsh’s confirmation. “Now, the power to enforce safety and equity in our workplaces has been handed from a ruthless corporate lawyer to a proud union brother”
“He will work to expand rights, freedoms and protections to everyone, not just for the wealthy and corporations,” added AFSCME President Lee Saunders. “As labor secretary and a close ally of the president, he will be a powerful and effective voice for working people in the Biden administration.”
Walsh will be tasked with implementing the Biden administration’s agenda at the department, which includes stricter workplace safety enforcement and expanding apprenticeship training opportunities, among other changes.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is in the process of working on a coronavirus-specific emergency temporary safety standard that would require employers to take certain steps to protect their workers from exposure to the virus.
President Joe Biden requested the agency finalize the standard by March 15, but so far the Office of Management and Budget has not indicated that it has received the standard for review — the last step before the rule is published publicly.
Walsh will also oversee the agency as it administers pandemic emergency unemployment programs — which have been major targets of fraud during the Covid-19 pandemic — and provides technical assistance to state agencies that have struggled to pay out the much-needed aid.
Several of those programs were extended through September under Democrats’ nearly $2 trillion rescue package enacted earlier this month.
The Labor Department issued guidance last week directing states on how to implement those new changes. But Walsh’s work is cut out for him: States have been struggling to reprogram their antiquated computer systems to pay out the aid, and some have just recently begun to pay out some of the benefits extended under the December aid package.
Walsh is the last Cabinet-level official to be confirmed, and the vote followed a blitz of Senate action on Biden’s Cabinet nominees in the last few weeks, after the administration’s pace of confirmations fell behind that of his predecessors.
“American workers will finally have one of their own leading the Department of Labor, someone from working America who will fight for working America,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Tuesday.