Biden’s Pick for Labor Thrills Union Bosses — for All the Wrong Reasons

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

What do we know about President-elect Joe Biden’s pick for Secretary of Labor?

Not much, really. As mayor of Boston, Marty Walsh is not a household name. It’s hard to find a list of actual accomplishments during his tenure as a state representative and in the mayor’s office.

Then again, real-world competence isn’t what gets you an appointment to a Biden administration. There need to be checked boxes.

Here are three for Marty Walsh:

  1. He was the darling of AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, who openly campaigned for his nomination.
  2. He will be the first union member to serve as Labor secretary in nearly 50 years.
  3. Marty Walsh will bring union culture to the Biden administration.

In short, Mayor Walsh is President-elect Biden offering a return on investment to the labor unions that spent hundreds of millions of dollars to get him elected. During his campaign, Biden bragged he’d be the “strongest labor president you have ever had.”

In fact, Biden told the AFL-CIO at a 2020 Labor Day event:

“I promise you this, if you give me the honor of being your president, you’ll never have a better friend or stronger ally in the White House. If I’m in the Oval Office, guess who is going to be there with me? Unions and Rich (Trumka). The bad news is, there is no getting away from me.”

So, Biden promises to keep Richard Trumka in the Oval Office with him. And what better way to do that than to seat Trumka’s BFF?

“Boston Mayor Marty Walsh will be an exceptional labor secretary for the same reason he was an outstanding mayor — he carried the tools,” Trumka said. “He will have the ear of the White House, the Cabinet and Congress as we work to increase union density and create a stronger, fairer America.”

Perhaps a better way to express it is that Biden will have the ear of the incoming Labor secretary.

Walsh is a union man right down to his DNA. He’s been a union member for more than 30 years, having joined his Laborers Local 223 when he was 21 years old. Walsh held a number of leadership positions in the union, including becoming president of the Boston Trades Council.

Biden presided over Walsh’s 2018 inauguration after he was re-elected as Boston mayor, and the two appeared together to support Stop & Shop grocery strikers in 2019 — another favorite campaign of Trumka’s.

Walsh even employs union strong-arm tactics to push through labor contracts. In 2012, when he was head of Boston’s Building and Construction Trades Council, Walsh was caught on a federal recording admitting to threatening developing company AvalonBay with “permitting problems” if the company didn’t hire union laborers for an upcoming project. A similar accusation was made against Walsh just months later by another Boston developer, Michael Rauseo.

Walsh has the appropriate union priorities. Even during the pandemic, when many Bostonians were out of work, Walsh, in 2020, increased the number of union-aligned, dues-paying employees on the public payroll and even expanded the city’s budget for 2021.

No wonder American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) President Lee Saunders said, “Marty is a star, and he could hit the ground running… He’s a card-carrying union member who has executive experience running a large city.”

And lastly, Walsh understands the importance of the teachers’ unions. An opponent of a Massachusetts statewide ballot measure allowing the state to add an additional 12 new charter schools per year, Mayor Walsh received similar praise from American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten.

“I think Marty Walsh is a great idea for labor secretary,” said Weingarten. “Marty will (be) a relentless worker advocate and ally, both in the administration and in the public sphere.”

But does that mean he will represent union members? Or the union bosses who cut his campaign checks?

Martin Walsh was first elevated to leadership in his Local 226 in 2002, and between 2008-2015, the union paid him more than $200,000 annually. Meanwhile, the Local lost nearly one-third of its membership.

Such a drop in membership reflects poorly on Walsh’s leadership or his union’s ability to provide value for their members — or both.

Every day, the Freedom Foundation is contacted by government union members who are dissatisfied with the service they receive from their union and feel their membership dues are used to line the pockets and support the lavish lifestyles of their union bosses.

Unfortunately, it appears Marty Walsh is part of the problem, not the solution. He collected a hefty paycheck funded by rank-and-file member paycheck dues deductions, and he expanded the government and grew government employee union coffers on the backs of taxpayers already struggling financially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The fact that Walsh’s nomination excites the presidents of two of the largest — and most often complained about — government employee unions in the nation should be a cause for concern with taxpayers in general and, more particularly, the rank-and-file members whose confiscated dues fueled his rise to the top.

Aaron Withe is the National Director of the Freedom Foundation, a national nonprofit with the mission to advance individual liberty, free enterprise, and limited, accountable government.