Questions for Marty Walsh

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President Biden’s pick for Labor Secretary, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh will get his first Senate hearing on Thursday. Walsh is a former union head himself, having been president of Laborers International Union of North America Local 223. He remained the local’s president even while simultaneously serving as a Massachusetts state representative, seeing no ethical problem in using the position to push for pro-union policies and generous deals in state projects.

Liberals have been busy lately trying to soften the impression that Walsh is a hardcore labor man. Boston Globe columnist Joan Vennochi characterizes Walsh as “the peacemaker who gets to yes.” This would be the same guy who, according to Vennochi’s own paper, was recorded on a 2012 wiretap telling a company that it would have difficulty getting permits approved for a Boston high-rise project but could get them if they agreed to only use union labor at another project. At a later meeting, Walsh brought along a member of the Boston Zoning Board, which had veto power over the project, to underline the message. It’s easy to get to “yes” when you can offer the other guy a deal he can’t refuse.

Walsh himself has been tight-lipped ever since being nominated. But let’s give the nominee the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he has changed in recent years. He can do a lot to clarify his position on a variety of labor issues by answering the following questions:

  • The administration favors raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, up from $7.25. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said in a 2019 study that more than doubling the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour would likely cause 1.3 million people to lose their jobs and reduce family income by $9 billion, wiping out the overall gains from the wage increase. That being the case, is that really the best way to help the working poor?
  • A follow-up assuming Walsh answers the prior question by citing another economic study that purports to find no job loss associated with a higher minimum wage: How do you respond to the recent working paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research that found that vast majority of research finds that “minimum wages reduce low-skilled employment” and that any analysis disputing that connection “requires discarding or ignoring most of the evidence”?
  • Why is the administration focusing on raising the minimum wage in the first place? Would helping to create more jobs that pay better than the minimum wage do more for workers?
  • The new administration has proposed expanding “joint employer” legal liability for businesses—when one company can be held responsible for workplace violations at another. The current legal standard for this is when the company has direct control over the other’s policies. The Biden administration wants the standard to extend to “indirect control.” Can you provide a simple, clear definition of what indirect control means? Is it simply whatever the administration decides? What are the limits, if any? Are you comfortable with a potential future GOP administration having the power to sanction businesses it doesn’t favor by citing their “indirect control” over a separate business that broke the law?
  • The administration has proposed eliminating right to work laws in all 28 states that have them, some going back decades. How does it bring the country together to upend systems that have been around that long? A right to work law does not prohibit unions. It merely prevents workers from being forced to join or otherwise financially support one. Do you believe that individual workers should have the right to decide whether they belong to a union?
  • The administration wants to limit the ability of employers to classify workers as contractors as opposed to employees, as is the practice at most so-called gig-employee companies. How does the administration propose to do this without eliminating the opportunity for millions of Americans to get quick, short-term work like ridesharing when they need it? How does eliminating this option help the millions of Americans who use it to cover their bills every month?
  • During the debate over renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement, congressional Democrats made a point of saying it was an absolute necessity that Mexican workers have a “free, secret and personal vote” for forming a union. They contended this was the only way to prevent the votes from being manipulated and the unions being corrupted. Does that same logic apply to U.S. workers? Should they only have secret ballot votes when deciding to form a union? If the answer is “no,” why not? If the answer is “ye,s” how do you square that with President Biden’s call for “card check” labor organizing, which would eliminate federal-monitored secret ballot votes in favor of the same type of public organizing methods that became problematic in Mexico?