February 4, 2021, Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions
Members of both parties quizzed Boston Mayor Martin Walsh on a range of issues, including OSHA, unemployment assistance, the Keystone pipeline, and other issues under the purview of the Department of Labor. While some Senators asked pointed questions, the tenor of the hearing suggested that Walsh should be confirmed on a bipartisan basis.
- OSHA and DOL Standard Setting and Enforcement – Multiple Senators raised questions about the role of OSHA. Ranking Member Richard Burr (R-NC) raised concerns about OSHA following proper procedures in issuing guidance. Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Tim Kaine (D-VA) encouraged OSHA to issue temporary emergency guidance. Walsh sought to strike a collaborative tone on OSHA’s role, stating that OSHA should not be viewed as the bad guy by employers, and that when used right, OSHA helps protect their employees and their business. He highlighted that President Biden issued an Executive Order directing OSHA to establish temporary emergency guidance on COVID-19 safety measures to protect businesses, workers, and customers. Walsh noted that President Biden has also called on Congress to increase OSHA’s authority, specifically highlighting the need for more inspectors, as he argued that increased standards without increased inspectors will not result in more safety for American workers.
- Keystone XL Pipeline – Senators Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) criticized the Biden administration’s decision to withdraw the permits for the Keystone XL pipeline. Walsh cited the administration’s broader agenda in job creation.
- The Minimum Wage – Senators from both parties asked Walsh to elaborate on his view of increasing the minimum wage, with Senators Mike Braun (R-IN) and Roger Marshall (R-KS) noting that increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour could have negative impacts on businesses in their home states. Walsh stated his support of a $15 an hour minimum wage, noting that Boston had implemented that policy on its own effectively, and now requires City contracts to pay a “living wage”, which is even higher than the minimum wage. He stated that President Biden intends to seek bipartisan support for his measure and committed to working with Senator Braun on the tipped-wages issue to help protect already-struggling restaurants and bars.
- The PRO Act and Right-to-Work State Laws – Several Senators asked Walsh to elaborate on his view of right-to-work laws after the nominee stated his approval of the PRO Act. Walsh committed to working with the concerned Senators to ensure their states would not be economically vulnerable if the PRO Act passes Congress, and highlighted that while he is very supportive of unions, as it was through union benefits that his family joined the middle class after emigrating from Ireland and were able to pay for his cancer treatment as a child, and noting his own long history of being part of, leading, and working with unions, he firmly believes that every American should have the right to choose to be in a union or to not be in one. He stated his support for making collective organization more accessible.
- Unemployment Insurance – Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Jacky Rosen (D-NV) raised concerns about the effectiveness of systems used to administer unemployment benefits. Walsh cited the need for greater investments in technology and information technology to provide states with more effective tools to administer benefits.
Walsh’s confirmation hearing was mainly free from partisan politics and both Democrats and Republicans on the Committee pledged to expedite Walsh’s nomination. At the beginning of the hearing, Ranking Member Burr stated that he would likely support Walsh’s nomination and encouraged his Republican colleagues to support his nomination as well.
While a few Republican Senators took the opportunity to criticize policies the Biden Administration has signaled support for, these disagreements did not suggest the difference on policy views would threaten Walsh’s nomination.
If confirmed, Walsh will be the first union member in almost fifty years to serve as Labor Secretary.
The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions announced it will vote on Walsh’s nomination on Thursday, February 11. His nomination will then go to the Senate floor for a final vote.