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Labor secretary nominee comes with a long record on union issues, contracting oversight

Editorial credit: vasilis asvestas/shutterstock.com 

Boston mayor and Labor secretary-designate Marty Walsh (Photo credit: vasilis asvestas / shutterstock.com)

Marty Walsh, Boston's mayor and former union member and official, is set to appear before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions on Feb. 4 to his nomination to be Secretary of Labor. He'll bring a resume of work on diversifying contractors who worked with the city of Boston during his tenure.

If confirmed, Walsh will play a major role in federal workplaces and federal contracting, overseeing the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, leading the enforcement of prevailing wage laws and anti-discrimination policies for federal contractors.

Already, the Biden administration has reversed a Trump policy limiting diversity and inclusion training for contractors.

"I think that's a signal to the contractor community of the focus that the agency is going to have in terms of overall diversity, equity and inclusion, but also how they may be approaching their enforcement in their audits," said Sheila Willis, an attorney with labor and employment law firm Fisher Phillips who does work on federal contractor compliance.

Walsh comes from a background in labor organizing, experience that Biden has touted, along with Walsh's support for a $15 minimum wage. He was the president of a local building trades union before being elected as mayor of Boston in 2013.

"It's heartening that President Biden has nominated a long-time union member and leader to head the Department of Labor," said American Federation of Government Employees National President Everett Kelley in a statement to FCW. "The Secretary of Labor is a critical positions for federal employees and all working people across the country."

Walsh has a record of "building bridges between labor and the business community," said the president and CEO of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, James Rooney, in a congratulatory statement about Walsh's nomination.

"Through the years, I have seen him find common ground on complex issues facing our region and our residents. His experience as a labor leader and ability to connect and inspire people from all backgrounds ensures that our Country will benefit from his ascension to President Biden's cabinet," he told FCW.

During his time as mayor, Walsh fronted several initiatives to expand contracting opportunities for small and local businesses owned by women, minorities and veterans.

Some city councilors have voiced skepticism about the city's claims it has made progress in diversifying contracting, and some civil rights groups and community organizations have encouraged the city to take a more proactive approach in doing business with minority- and women-owned businesses.

In fiscal year 2019, women- and minority-owned businesses were 5.3 percent of contract spending in the city. Reporting by WGBH, a public radio station in Boston, found that overall, less than 2 percent of the total COVID-19 related contract spending went to Boston-based, minority-owned businesses, although that percentage was higher for grants.

Walsh's 2016 executive order set spending goals for minority and women owned businesses in contracting and establishing training on bidding and performance on city contracts for women and minority business owners.

Last year, Walsh issued another executive order that tried to bring the number of minority contractors by updating a directory of local minority-, women- and veteran-owned businesses; training city employees who work on procurement and requiring each department to create a procurement plan with an equity lens and to verify the use of the updated directory.

That order also called on the Department of Innovation and Technology and the procurement department to improve the city's procurement website.

He also established a Supplier Diversity Advisory Council including business and civil rights representatives to work on the issue, contracted out BBC Research and Consulting for a study of efforts to diversify contracting and created a cabinet-level Chief of Equity position to help guide equity and racial justice in the city's policies.

About the Author

Natalie Alms is a staff writer at FCW covering the federal workforce. She is a recent graduate of Wake Forest University and has written for the Salisbury (N.C.) Post. Connect with Natalie on Twitter at @AlmsNatalie.

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