President-elect Joe Biden has called on Mayor Martin Walsh to join his Cabinet and lead his incoming Labor Department – and Walsh has answered the call for his long-time ally and friend.
Rumors had been swirling all last week, particularly in the State House, about Walsh’s impending departure – which most thought would be announced last Wednesday. National events at the U.S. Capitol seemed to postpone that, and on Tuesday it was first officially reported by Politico.com. On Friday, Biden held a television press conference to make the official announcement
“I am nominating a good friend and a stand-up guy – Marty Walsh of Boston,” said Biden on Friday. “The son of Irish immigrants, his only downside is they’re not from Mayo, they’re from Galway. They left Galway and moved to Boston. Marty was born and raised in Dorchester. People who know him know he’s tough as nails…He’s in his second term a successful time as mayor of the iconic city of Boston and always puts working people first…Marty understands that the middle-class built this country and unions built the middle class. He sees how union workers have held this country together in crisis…They are literally keeping this country going and they deserve a Secretary of Labor who knows how to build their power of workers. He knows that when I say our future is built in America, it will be a future built by American workers.”
He noted that the Free Labor Standards Act didn’t say one could only have unions, but said unions should be encouraged. Some of the issues Biden identified for Walsh to work on was a $15 minimum wage, pension protection, worker safety, wage theft, union participation in trade policy and paid family leave. In a bit of a surprise, Biden said he gave “serious consideration” to putting Sen. Bernie Sanders into the position, but the two decided it would be best for Sanders to remain in the Democratically-controlled Senate. He would be the first union member to serve as Secretary of Labor. He would need to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate
“This is one of the most important departments to me,” said Biden. “I trust Mayor Walsh and I am honored he accepted.”
Walsh spoke during the press conference also, but his most poignant comments came during Tuesday’s State of the City Address – where he often got emotional at the parts where he spoke about leaving his hometown and his job as mayor, which he has called his “dream job.”
He told the online audience Tuesday that he had accepted the job of Labor Secretary and was just waiting for Senate confirmation.
“In eight days, we’ll have friends and allies in the White House who believe in cities and share our values,” he said, beginning to choke up. “As a member of that Administration, I will work to make sure it’s the best federal partner Boston and America’s cities ever had. The truth is, I’m not going to Washington alone. I’m bringing Boston with me. This city is not just my hometown, it’s my heart. It’s my mother and father at the kitchen table on Taft Street in Dorchester, talking about helping people…In the end, I carry with me the people of Boston, from every neighborhood: every child who shared a dream with me; every senior who shared a memory; every business owner who welcomed me in; every nonprofit or community leader I worked with; and everyone watching right now who cares about their family and the future of this city.”
It wrapped up a surprising few days in City politics where many loyal Walsh supporters felt there was no way he was going to leave for Washington, D.C., though others – primarily in the State House – felt it was an absolute given. The news first came on Thursday around 1:30 p.m. when Politico.com broke the official news.
However, Councilor Michelle Wu – who is running for mayor – enjoyed breaking the news somewhat before it became official in issuing a statement shortly after the Politico story. That, of course, is something the mayor did for her last fall when he “outed” her mayoral campaign to The Boston Globe before she officially announced it.
“Congratulations to Mayor Marty Walsh on his nomination as Labor Secretary for the Biden Administration,” said Wu. “He will be the first union member to serve in this role in nearly 50 years, and his leadership will come at a critical time for the labor movement. There is much work to do to clean up the backwards, antiworker policies of the Trump administration that have hurt so many here in our city, and Boston needs a partner to fight for working families at the federal level.”
The other announced mayoral candidate, District 4 Councilor Andrea Campbell – a former Council President – also issued a statement Thursday afternoon.
“Congratulations to Mayor Walsh on his nomination as Secretary of Labor – a fitting role for someone who has spent his entire career fighting for working people in and out of public service,” she said. “The realities of deep division in our country and city have never been more clear than they have this year – amidst a pandemic and yesterday’s domestic attack on our democracy. For Boston, there’s so much at stake in 2021 as we look to recover from this pandemic and reimagine what our city can be without persistent inequities. I know Mayor Walsh will be a partner in that work in this new role.”
Others that had been suggested alongside Walsh were Congressman Andy Levin of Michigan, former Deputy Labor Secretary Seth Harris, California Labor Secretary Julie Su and AFL-CIO Chief Economist Bill Spriggs, according to the Politico.com report and other previous media reports.
Local trade unions immediately gave their support to Biden picking Walsh.
“IBEW Local 103 has seen firsthand that Marty Walsh is a champion for all working people,” said Business Manager Lou Antonellis. “We share his values that every worker deserves access to great training, great careers, and a chance at the American dream. As an organizer, legislator, and Mayor, Marty Walsh has demonstrated his profound commitment to making stronger communities and safer workplaces.”
The state AFL-CIO also commended the pick, noting they have worked closely with Walsh and believe he will be a great Secretary of Labor.
“Marty Walsh is a champion of working people and is a perfect pick to lead the Department of Labor,” said Massachusetts AFL-CIO President Steven A. Tolman. “From my time working side by side with Marty Walsh both in the legislature and as the President of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO, I have seen the unmatched level of care and passion he brings to fighting for working people every day. His service and record as a dedicated labor leader, legislator, and Mayor of Boston provides overwhelming evidence that he will be a terrific Secretary of Labor.”
There haven’t yet been any announcements as to when confirmation hearings would begin, but certainly they would be after the Jan. 21 Inauguration Day, though many believe confirmation could come quickly with the U.S. Senate soon being controlled by the Democratic Party.