Politics

U.S. Senate confirms Marty Walsh as secretary of labor

"I spent my entire career fighting for working people and I’m eager to continue that fight in Washington.”

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh testifies during a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing on his nomination to be labor secretary on Capitol Hill, Feb. 4. Graeme Jennings/Pool via AP

The U.S. Senate on Monday evening confirmed Marty Walsh to serve as the nation’s secretary of labor, cementing the Boston mayor, former union leader, and the Dorchester son of Irish immigrants as a top advisor to President Joe Biden.

Walsh, nominated by Biden for the post in January, was confirmed in a 68-29 vote — the final of Biden’s nominees for the 15 cabinet secretary positions to be screened and approved by federal lawmakers.

“I’m deeply grateful to President Biden, Vice President [Kamala] Harris for their confidence in me and for this opportunity to serve our country in this time of need,” Walsh said at a press conference shortly after the vote. “I share their 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 resigned as mayor at 9 p.m. Monday night. His departure from Boston City Hall elevated City Council President Kim Janey to acting mayor through citywide elections this fall.

Janey will be the first Black mayor in the history of the city, where all those before her were white men. 

A former Building and Construction Trades Council leader, Walsh, who also served as president of Laborers Local 223, is the first union member to serve as labor secretary in nearly half a century.

His confirmation drew bipartisan support in line with other Biden nominees, despite concerns from some Republicans about the potential impact of Biden policies on job growth.

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“The Biden administration has already signaled they will ask him to implement a variety of policies that do not serve the long-term interests of American workers,” Senate Minority Leader Republican Mitch McConnell said Monday.

Still, Sen. Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican, supported Walsh’s nomination, offering that the Boston Democrat vowed to work closely with lawmakers and noting that Walsh has “the background, the skills, and the awareness for the need of balance in conversations between labor and management.”

“He respects the importance of job creators, and the need for better coordination of numerous job training programs,” said Burr, ranking member of the Senate committee that backed Walsh’s nomination last month. “Mayor Walsh is committed to making sure Commerce and Labor work cooperatively …. We won’t agree on everything, but we should be able to find places that we can agree, in a bipartisan way, to move forward.”

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, said the Department of Labor is “in desperate need of a leader with Mayor Walsh’s perspective.”

He highlighted how Walsh has explained that the labor movement gave his immigrant parents a step up into a middle class life, and drew comparisons between those experiences and that of his own grandfather.

“For the past four years under President Trump and Secretary [Eugene] Scalia, unfortunately, sadly, the Labor Department is too often sided with corporate America, not the working people of America, who it was formed to help,” Schumer said ahead of the Senate vote. “Once the Senate confirms Mayor Walsh, American workers will finally have one of their own leading the Department of Labor, someone from working America who will fight for working America.”

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Walsh steps into his new role as the country strives to regain its footing amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Last month, employers added 379,000 jobs to the economy as more Americans are vaccinated against the contagious virus. 

But losses spurred by the pandemic remain sizable: A year ago, there were approximately 9.5 million more jobs. In February, the nation’s unemployment rate hung at 6.2 percent, down only from 6.3 percent a month earlier.

“There’s lots of work to do in Washington D.C.,” Walsh said. “There’s lots of work to do around workplace safety, there’s lots of work to do on unemployment, there’s lots of work to do about workforce development.”

Pointing to Burr’s remarks, Walsh indicated a willingness to work with Republicans and find bipartisan solutions.

“I think back to when I was running for mayor, I was kind of put in a box saying ‘he’s only going to be a labor person, he’s not going to be worried about business, he’s not going to be worried about this, he’s not going to be worried about that,’” Walsh said. “And I think we’ve proven over the last seven years that we can work across aisles and get things done while also protecting the worker. And I hope to do some of that same stuff in Washington.”

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