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Anti-Union Groups Come After Walsh

Biden's Labor pick is facing opposition from groups like the Right to Work Committee

Kris LaGrange's picture
Feb 01, 2021

One of President Biden’s last picks to fill out his cabinet was Boston Mayor Marty Walsh who he nominated to be the Labor Secretary. While Walsh has significant support within the labor community due to his previous role as a union President, he has drawn opposition from conservative groups who are trying to sink Walsh’s nomination.

Conservative groups like America Rising, the National Right to Work Committee, and the Heritage Foundation are drumming up old “scandals” to try and sink the nomination by making Senators think that he is corrupt. The biggest one came after two of Walsh’s aides, Ken Brissette and Tim Sullivan, were convicted of extortion in 2019, only to have their conviction overturned in 2020.

The scandal revolved around an incident with the reality show Top Chef. In 2014, right after Walsh took office, he went on the show. However, after his appearance, the Mayor’s staff realized that the show was being done non-union. According to testimony at the trial, Brissette allegedly tried to fix the situation by demanding the show’s footage. If Brissette didn’t get it, he allegedly threatened to hold up future public permits needed for filming. Walsh was never implicated in the scandal. While Top Chef was filming in Boston, they faced constant pickets from the Teamsters over their decision to use non-union labor. Top Chef even tried to bribe the union to drop the picket line and go away.

They are also trying to drum up a scandal around Walsh’s use of his longtime girlfriend's consulting firm. According to campaign finance records, Walsh spent nearly $900,000 in campaign funds on a consulting firm where she worked. This was more than half of the firm's political business according to the Boston Globe. The consulting firm managed Walsh’s campaign office, mailings, and fundraisers. However, none of this was illegal as no government money was spent and all of the expenditures were campaign related.

These are old claims against Walsh and these anti-union groups are just trying to stir up the old stereotype that unions are corrupt. There was even an independent investigation into the Top Chef incident that was run by Brian Kelly, a former US Attorney who prosecuted the notorious Boston mobster James “Whitey” Bulger. Kelly’s investigation found no evidence of corruption, found that the city never stopped granting film permits to Top Chef or any other show hiring non-union workers.

“It was an outrageous case—Marty was never linked,” said Mark Erlich, former executive secretary-treasurer of the New England Regional Council of Carpenters and personal friend of Walsh. “A U.S. attorney was trying to get some publicity by going after a high-ranking politician and it failed.”

Finally, conservative groups are claiming that Walsh’s staff “bullied” promotors of the “Boston Calling” music festival into using union labor. In a statement from Greg Mourad, the Vice President of the National Right to Work Committee, he said: “The ‘Boston Calling’ music festival scandal, in which two of Walsh’s top aides during his tenure as Boston mayor were found guilty by a jury of bullying promoters on behalf of union officials to please their boss, Walsh, is likely a preview of how Walsh will operate the department if he is confirmed as Labor Secretary.”

While these conservative groups want to sink Walsh, not all business groups are trying to block him. For example, Glenn Spencer, a Senior Vice President at the US Chamber of Commerce, told Bloomberg “He does have a reputation of bringing all parties to the table and actually listening,” Spencer said. “He does want to take into account the concerns of business and we find that encouraging.”

The Chamber has not taken a position on Walsh.

While Republicans may put up a fuss about the nomination, it is unlikely to sink his candidacy. There was never any evidence that Walsh directed these actions to happen. The allegations are also that he pushed companies to use union labor, something that Biden appears to want his Secretary of Labor to do. Plus, Walsh has a history as Mayor of working with both sides to encourage the use of unions while not hindering work.

“Of the possible names that came up, Walsh is the best,” said Roger King, senior labor and employment counsel at HR Policy Association, a trade group representing Fortune 500 companies.

Walsh’s Senate confirmation hearing is scheduled for Thursday.

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