The United States Senate has confirmed Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, a former local union leader, as the next US secretary of labor.
The Senate voted 68-29 on Monday to confirm Walsh to head the Labor Department, which is responsible for workforce policies nationwide including occupational safety and standards for wages and work hours.
Walsh’s confirmation completes the Senate’s confirmation of President Joe Biden’s Cabinet nominees to head 15 key US executive departments.
The role of US labour secretary is typically more pro-active in Democratic administrations than Republican ones, and Walsh will take up the post at a time when the US faces high unemployment, deepening economic inequality and rising controversy about rules governing gig workers.
Walsh, 53, is the son of an Irish immigrant who grew up in a working-class neighbourhood of the city of Boston.
As a young man, Walsh had followed his father in construction work and joined the Laborer’s Union Local 223, where he rose to become president.
He was elected mayor of Boston in 2014 and had been a member of the US House of Representatives representing Massachusetts from 1997 to 2014.
“American workers will finally have one of their own leading the Department of Labor – someone from working America who will fight for working America,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.
Schumer said that under former President Donald Trump, the Labor Department had “too often sided with corporate America, not the working people of America who it was formed to help”.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and 28 other Republicans voted against Walsh’s confirmation on Monday, complaining the Biden administration’s early labour policy steps would not create jobs.
“The Biden administration has already signalled they will ask [Walsh] to implement a variety of policies that do not serve the long-term interests of American workers,” McConnell said.
On February 28, Biden released a video message on Twitter supporting a battle by Amazon employees in Alabama to form a collective bargaining unit. It is rare for US presidents to engage directly in union organising.
“I made it clear during my campaign that my policy would be to support unions organising and the right to collectively bargain,” Biden said.
“There should be no intimidation, no coercion, no threats no anti-union propaganda,” he said.
The AFL-CIO federation of labour unions is seeking passage of legislation in Congress that would promote and protect the rights of workers to organise into unions.
A February survey conducted by the AFL-CIO found 58 percent of likely US voters support the Labor Department using enforcement authority to crack down on platforms like Uber and Instacart that treat workers as independent contractors – which means they do not get employee benefits.
Walsh’s confirmation completes Biden’s cabinet on the 61st day of his presidency.
To fill out the remainder of his administration, Biden must still name dozens more to key deputy and assistant secretary positions in Cabinet departments and other agencies.
The Senate later this week is poised to confirm Biden’s nominees for the deputy director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, the US surgeon general, the assistant secretary of health and human services, and deputy secretaries at the energy and treasury departments.