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Public Employee Press: PEP Talk

Biden administration moves quickly on pro-worker agenda

Our voices—our votes—do count


On his first day in office, President Joe Biden already set the tone for how he intends to treat labor. One of his first acts was requesting the resignation of Peter Robb, General Counsel of the National Labor Relations Board, who was appointed by former President Trump. Robb has a long anti-union, pro-big business history that included his involvement in the firing of striking air traffic controllers in Aug. 1981.

Not surprisingly, Robb refused the request. He was fired that afternoon, as was his Deputy General Counsel Alice Stock. On Jan. 25, President Biden appointed Peter Sung Ohr, a career NLRB attorney, as Acting Counsel. Ohr immediately went to work by rescinding 10 of Robb’s most egregious anti-worker decisions.

President Biden also appointed NLRB board member Lauren McFrerran as Chair, replacing another Trump appointee, corporate lawyer John Ring. For now, McFrerran is the only Democrat on the NLRB until later this year when the President can replace current members with more worker-oriented appointees.

President Biden’s first act in transforming the agency that enforces labor law in collective bargaining and unfair labor practices was only one of many taken to implement the Biden Administration’s ambitious, pro-worker, labor agenda.

Another action item is directing the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to update and strengthen COVID-19 safety recommendations and enforcement efforts, radically altering the agency’s direction in prioritizing worker safety. These new standards hopefully include mandates on masks, social distancing, and better communication between management and workers during COVID-19 outbreaks and other emergencies in the workplace.

Citing the need for swift action to reduce workers’ risks from the coronavirus, Biden wrote: “Ensuring the health and safety of workers is a national priority and a moral imperative. Health care workers and other essential workers, many of whom are people of color and immigrants, have put their lives on the line during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

President Biden has not stopped there, though. He also has:

  • Ordered OSHA to change its enforcement focus and shift to a robust outreach to the most at-risk workers—mainly immigrants and people of color afraid of retaliation by employers.
  • Directed the Department of Labor to issue guidance clarifying that workers may refuse work that could jeopardize their health and continue to still receive unemployment benefits—a vital lifeline for workers displaced by the health crisis.
  • Issued an Executive Order establishing a $15 minimum wage and emergency paid leave for federal employees and contractors, anticipating a move by the now-Democratic-controlled U.S. Congress to push for a national minimum wage increase.

Another key move by the President was nominating Boston Mayor Marty Walsh as Labor Secretary. The child of Irish immigrants, Walsh was a member of Laborers Local 223, and later head of Boston’s Building and Construction Trades Council, before being elected Mayor in 2013. He hosted the 2018 American Federation of City, State and Municipal Employees convention,

DC 37’s national union, and spoke to the delegates who had gathered several weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Janus v. AFSCME.

“We are seeing a war on working people, on our families, and our communities by dividing the American worker against each other in every possible way. They demonize and divide,” Walsh said then. “Together, we have the power to reject inequality and division. I stand with you each step of the way.”

After his confirmation, Walsh is expected to work on plans to recover the millions of lost jobs due to the pandemic, push for the $15-an-hour minimum wage, and fulfill Biden’s campaign promise to strengthen the power of organized labor, which, according to recent polls, has increased in popularity during the pandemic.

During his U.S. Senate confirmation hearing, Walsh said, “These are not just policies to me. I’ve lived them. Millions of American families right now need them.”

As Labor Secretary, Walsh will be on hand to help implement the American Rescue Act, the Biden Administration’s COVID-19 relief package to fund the frontlines by providing aid to states, cities, and schools that have been left financially devastated by the impact of the pandemic, and to push for legislation soon to be introduced in Congress aimed specifically to help public workers—essential workers on the frontlines of the pandemic—organize and have collective bargaining rights, both snatched away by the 2018 Janus ruling.

President Biden is moving quickly to undo the damage done to the labor movement under the previous presidential administration whose main objective was to undermine the advances made by organized labor to help middle- and working-class Americans.