Card-holding union member Walsh, Labor candidate for Biden, earns respect from companies

“He has this reputation for bringing people together,” said Glenn Spencer, senior vice president of employment policy at the US Chamber of Commerce, of Walsh, who will have his confirmation hearing Thursday before the Senate committee. HELP. And “his background is in the construction trades, which tend to focus on getting things done, as opposed to other parts of the labor movement.”

“That doesn’t mean we’re going to get the result we’re always looking for. But we hope there will be an opportunity to weigh in and maybe move things in a more positive direction. “

Unions and professional associations point to Walsh’s experience in Massachusetts, where he served as state representative and chairman of the Boston Building and Construction Trades Council before running for mayor in 2013, as a cause for optimism.

Walsh “is a pragmatist, and he wants to get things done,” said Drew Schneider, director of labor and employment policy at the National Association of Manufacturers. “He has been in government for a long time and the reviews we have heard are positive. “

Local union representatives were surprised by the talks he facilitated as mayor “which would never take place between big companies, between unions, between environmentalists,” said Sean O’Brien, president of Local 25. of the Boston Teamsters. “So it has a strong and strong characteristic of bringing people together; listen before making decisions. He has the ability to negotiate relationships and / or arbitrate any potential conflict. “

The unions that backed Walsh for the job preached his consensus-building abilities as they lobbied for his appointment.

“Workers really need real leverage, but I don’t think it’s a choice situation,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. “At the end of the day, just like in the 1940s, when companies realized that the influence of workers could really improve their bottom line, so it is now.”

Workforce training, vaccination incentives, unemployment insurance and multi-employer pension plans are all areas in which companies say they expect to be able to find new ground. agreement with a labor department headed by Walsh.

“The [unemployment insurance] The system needs a few upgrades, and this is a place where we think there could be some bipartisan support and we could work together to fix this, ”Spencer said. And “the secretary-nominee comes out of the union world; he understands these multi-employers [pension] plans and how important it is to correct them.

But on other issues, including the overtime rule and independent contractors, employers anticipate some disagreement: “Just look at the fights we’ve had with the Obama administration,” said Ed Egee, vice-president. -President of government relations and workforce development at the National Retail Federation.

And some legislative priorities like the Right to Organize Protection Act – which would rewrite decades-old labor laws to strengthen unions – that Walsh will be tasked with leading on the Hill are non-starters.

“The PRO Law is so much beyond reasonable legislation,” Egee said. “It’s totally impractical for any employer, big or small. And it would have an absolutely devastating impact on workers.”

“I mean, at some point they have to decide if they want a relationship with the business world or if they want PRO law? They probably can’t have both.

The first hurdle will undoubtedly be the issue of workplace safety, which Biden has pledged to resolve quickly amid the pandemic. The President signed an executive order directing the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to consider whether there is a need to issue an emergency temporary standard, which would create a set of binding guidelines for employers, and, if so, publish one by March 15. Business associations are scrambling to make their voices heard as they seek to ensure that any standard takes into account the businesses it will affect.

If the agency deemed a standard necessary, it could take various forms that would be more accessible to employers. Examples can be found at the state level, where local governments have, in some cases, taken on the issue of occupational safety.

“Virginia standard, Michigan standard take [employers’] efforts into account, ”Egee said. “These are applicable standards. “

But California has “a totally unworkable standard,” he said. “Even the best-intentioned employer couldn’t comply with the black letter law of California regulations.”

With California Secretary of Labor Julie Su – who led the agency during the state’s implementation – being selected by Biden as Assistant U.S. Secretary of Labor, it is not unlikely that the agency chooses a similar path.

Some express skepticism about Walsh’s ability to calm affairs down while also acting as the head of Biden’s work.

Former Secretary of Labor “Tom Perez… said a lot of the same things and wanted to have everyone at the table and welcome all points of view, and at the end of the day we don’t think any of our concerns are wrong. is reflected in their actions, ”said Marc Freedman, vice president of employment policy at the US Chamber of Commerce. “So we hope that future Secretary Walsh listens to our concerns and perhaps gives them a little more attention than we have seen in previous Labor Departments which opened with the same message.”

And those on the left are warning against even any attempt to negotiate with business, in a thin line protest Biden will have to walk in an attempt to appease businesses and unions.

“The United States Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers and the National Restaurant Association and other trade associations will cut him to his knees if he tries to do something bold,” the former secretary said. at Work Robert Reich. “In other words, my advice to him is: don’t negotiate.

“Washington is a different place from Boston or Massachusetts. You have to be extremely tough.