Last Thursday, former Mayor Martin Walsh was sworn in as the 29th U.S. Secretary of Labor – and the first secretary that is also a member of a trade union – with Vice President Kamala Harris administering the Oath.
Walsh gave a short speech following the swearing in and told of his personal story and how it would shape his priorities going forward as the new Labor Secretary.
“I thought about my mother and father, who emigrated from Ireland in the 1950s,” he said. “They both worked hard, but our American Dream did not take shape until my father joined the Laborers Union Local 223 in Boston. The union was our way into the middle class. It meant a fair wage, so we could have a home and give back to our community. It meant safety on the job, so we didn’t have to live in fear of an accident derailing our lives. It meant a pension, so my parents could retire with dignity. And it meant health insurance, so our family had access to quality care.”
Walsh said he followed his father into the trade unions, joined the same union and worked on job sites all over Boston. He noted that it was this union that provided him his first job, but it was also that union that provided health insurance so he could be treated for cancer as a child, and for alcoholism recovery as a young adult.
“In my 20s, because of the same benefits that enabled my cancer treatment as a child, I was able to seek treatment for my alcoholism,” he said. “I am a proud member of the recovery community.”
Those personal details were something that Walsh indicated would shape his policy objectives as he moves into his new role. His five objectives laid out in the speech include:
•Ensuring all workers have fair pay, health care, unemployment benefits, safe workplaces and a secure retirement.
•Ensuring equal access to good jobs.
•Ensuring workers have a seat at the table in shaping workplace conditions and policies.
•Bolstering career education and job training.
•Increasing access to mental health and substance use treatment.
“These are not just policies to me — these are real, tangible needs for millions of Americans, and I will continue fighting for them as I begin this new role,” he said, noting that record numbers of Americans are seeking unemployment benefits, vaccine rollout is still underway and so many continue to suffer from the pandemic. “I believe we must act with urgency to meet this moment, to strengthen and empower our workforce as we rebuild,” he said. As secretary, I pledge to work in partnership with workers and businesses; states, cities and tribal territories; employees in every agency of the Department of Labor; and President Biden and Vice President Harris to help working families build back better.”