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The worst thing Biden could do: Replace Labor secretary with a “political hack” or “absolute loser”

Speculation in the New York Post that former Mayor Bill de Blasio and former Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney were both angling to succeed outgoing U.S. Secretary Marty Walsh was received with a mix of laughter and outright disdain during an informal survey of several New York City union leaders.

According to the website Daily Faceoff, Walsh was offered the executive directorship of the National Hockey League Hockey Players Association. Calls to the U.S. Department of Labor were not returned and there was no statement on the DOL’s website confirming the story although Politico and Bloomberg reported his departure. 

Walsh was the first Labor Secretary since the 1970s who was out of the union movement. A son of Irish immigrants, he rose through the ranks of Boston’s Laborer’s Local 223 and went on to lead that city’s Building and Construction Trades Council while serving in the Massachusetts legislature. Walsh was elected Mayor of Boston in 2013 and re-elected in 2017. The International Association of Firefighters, the first union to endorse Biden in the 2020 primaries, pushed hard for his nomination.

As Secretary, Walsh was overt in his support of the union movement including walking with the Kellogg workers on their picket line in 2021. Walsh played key roles in the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, the $1.2 trillion Bi-partisan Infrastructure Act, and the CHIPS and Science Act, which collectively represent the most ambitious investment in American industrial policy in decades.

John Samuelsen, international president of the Transport Workers Union, which represents 150,000 workers in several sectors, said he found it insulting that anyone else was being considered other than Walsh’s current deputy, Julie A. Su who previously served as secretary of the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency and as California’s Commissioner of Labor from 2011 through 2018.

“Julie Su is an incredibly talented person. She’s been doing this work and she comes from a labor background. Is it on anybody’s serious agenda to knock her out of the box for Sean Patrick Maloney who was just rejected by his own constituents — or Bill de Blasio who is an absolute loser?” Samuelsen asked rhetorically. “How does anybody not think that isn’t discriminatory — I thought the Democratic Party was supposed to be the party of the elimination of the glass ceiling?”

Bloomberg reported Biden “could face pushback if Su were to lead DOL for too long, as many business lobbyists have raised concern that she could take the department in a more liberal direction based of her work as California’s labor secretary.” Specifically, companies like Uber and Lyft are critics of Su’s tenure in California.

Politico reported that Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, was already in Su’s corner, however. “I will be very happy to support her because I have talked with her and as I said she and Marty really made a very good team,” Hirono told the news website.

New York Taxi Workers Alliance President Bhairavi Desai issued a statement saying, “Corporations lobbying against you should be the highest endorsement for a Labor Secretary candidate.”

Su is one of the nation’s leading legal experts on workers’ rights and civil rights, as well as a past recipient of a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant. In 2014, she launched the first “Wage Theft Is a Crime” multimedia, multilingual statewide campaign targeting low-wage workers and their employers. A Harvard Law graduate, Su was the litigation director at Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Los Angeles, the nation’s largest non-profit civil rights organization devoted to issues affecting the Asian-American community.

“Absolutely not — to go with a political hack is a step backward,” said Lt. James McCarthy, president of the Uniform Fire Officers Association, which represent the FDNY’s fire officers. “Maloney does not have the union chops that Marty Walsh has— he was a decent legislator. [Bill] de Blasio settled all the contracts that Bloomberg left open when he first got into office, which was a positive, but on his 11th hour dictates undid whatever good will there was.”

Specifically, McCarthy pointed to de Blasio’s refusal to collectively bargain the COVID vaccine mandate before he imposed it as a workplace requirement, and his embrace of the controversial strategy to push the city’s retired civil servants to a privatized Medicare Advantage program.

“He proclaimed to be the mayor of labor and did nothing for labor — that’s the bottom line,” said. Vincent Variale, president of DC 37 Local 3621, which represents the FDNY’s EMS officers. “He was not respectful to members during COVID, when we needed a boost of the morale of the workforce with all the sick and dying and he did things that brought morale down and people quit — then he tried to replace the healthcare benefits our retirees rely on.”    

Marianne Pizzitola, president of the NYC Organization of Retirees, warned President Joe Biden that appointing de Blasio — who, by the way, was also known by many in Brooklyn as “Bill de Blah, Blah” during his New York City Council tenure — would be “the worst thing he can do.”

“Don’t entertain that,” Pizzitola urged de Blasio directly in a video posted to YouTube on Feb. 10, “You do not deserve that position.”

Walsh’s tenure was certainly not without controversy. Last year, the Biden administration had Congress impose a freight rail contract that Walsh had helped negotiate but was rejected by a majoring of the nation’s 125,000. That move, last used by President Bush in 1991, sparked protests by thousands of rail workers and their supporters who blasted the imposed contract because it lacked any paid sick days.

“Most notably in a sports context: Walsh played a key role as a mediator in helping Major League Baseball come to a lockout resolution in 2022,” reported Daily Faceoff. “As for how he fits into the pro hockey world: from a union-to-owners relations perspective, he also has a key connection to Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs, an extremely influential voice as chairman of the NHL’s Board of Governors. In 2017 the Jacobs family donated $13,000 to Walsh’s political committee.

“Throughout his tenure as Secretary of Labor, Marty Walsh has done a phenomenal job ensuring workers have a seat at the table,” the Communications Workers of America said in a statement. “He has gone above and beyond to protect and expand the rights of working families, including CWA members. In addition to focusing the Department’s resources to support worker organizing and empowerment, he has personally met with and encouraged workers who are organizing with CWA.”

The CWA statement continued. “Serving under President Biden, the most pro-union President in history, Walsh played an instrumental role in executing key pieces of the Administration’s pro-worker agenda. His role in ensuring the inclusion of strong labor standards in federal broadband funding, raising wages and workplace standards for federal contract workers, and strengthening health and safety rules cannot be understated.”

Walsh’s name surfaced in press reports surrounding President Biden’s State of the Union address because he was the Cabinet member selected to be the “designated survivor” kept at a remote unknown location away from the U.S. Capitol in the event of a catastrophic event.

Politico reported that Walsh will see a significant pay hike from his $200,000 government salary considering that the current executive director of the NHLPA is paid $3 million a year.

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