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Who Will Biden Pick for Secretary of Labor?

The seven frontrunners include a Senator, Congressman, labor leaders, and government officials

Kris LaGrange's picture
Nov 13, 2020

President-elect Joe Biden is moving forward with the transition from Trump to Biden. Earlier in the week, he announced that 27 labor leaders will serve on his agency review teams in addition to the two labor leaders who are serving on the transition committee. Now Biden has begun the process of vetting candidates for Cabinet positions.

The most important Cabinet position for working people is Labor Secretary. The Labor Secretary oversees the Department of Labor, which includes overseeing OSHA, EEOC, FLRA, NLRB, and a number of retirement and pension boards.

Since the Labor Secretary is such an important position, UCOMM has decided to take a look at the people who are rumored to be the front runners for the position.

Julie Su- currently the Secretary of the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency, Su also served as the California Labor Commissioner. She is a nationally recognized expert on workers’ rights. As Labor Commissioner, Su launched the first “Wage Theft is a Crime” statewide campaign, a multilingual campaign to reach out to low-wage workers and their employers about wage theft. She has been named one of the “Top 75 Labor and Employment Lawyers” in the country by Daily Journal. Su is also a co-founder of Sweatshop Watch, a California based organization committed to eliminating worker exploitation, eliminating illegal and inhumane conditions at sweatshops, and encouraging corporations to accept responsibility for the places where their products are made.

Andy Levin- currently a Congressman from Michigan, Levin was previously the Assistant Director of Organizing for the national AFL-CIO. Levin has also worked as the Deputy Director and then Acting Director of Michigan’s Department of Energy, Labor & Economic growth, and as Michigan’s first Chief Workforce Officer. In that role, he created and ran No Worker Left Behind the largest statewide worker training program. One thing that could hold back Levin’s chances are that he is in a potentially vulnerable district, meaning that Democrats are not assured of holding onto the seat in a special election.

Bill Spriggs- currently the Chief Economist at the AFL-CIO, Spriggs is also a professor of economics at Howard University and a former assistant Secretary of Labor. In his role as Chief Economist, he chairs the Economic Policy Working Group for the Trade union Advisory Committee to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Spriggs was appointed by President Barack Obama in 2009 to serve as the Assistant Secretary for the Office of Policy at the Department of Labor. This means that he was confirmed by the Senate, something that President-elect Biden might favor since the Senate has already warned that they will not approve appointees who they deem “too liberal.”

Tom Perez- the former Secretary of Labor, Perez is currently the chairman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC). Perez was the Labor Secretary from 2013 until 2017. Perez was responsible for instituting the Fiduciary Rule, which instituted a standard of care on retirement advisors and forbids them from receiving commissions that created a conflict of interest. He also played an important role in helping to end the 2016 strike between the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and Verizon. While Perez has the experience for the position, he was only approved by a party-line vote in 2013 and has spent the last four years in a highly politicized role as chairman of the DNC. He is likely to face stiff opposition from Republicans.

Sharon Block- currently the Executive Director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School. She has also previously worked as the head of the Policy Office at the US Department of Labor and as a Senior Counselor to Perez when he was Labor Secretary. She was appointed in 2012, by President Obama, to serve on the NLRB. She has also worked as the senior labor and employment counsel for the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) committee and led President Obama’s White House Summit on Worker Voices.

Sara Nelson- currently the International President of the Association of Flight Attendants- CWA. Nelson is seen as a rising star within the labor movement after she became a central figure in ending the month-long government shutdown in January of 2019. During the shutdown, she routinely appeared on news programs and used her social media to warn about the dangers of not paying airport workers. Her press conference calling for a nationwide general strike was key to pressuring Congress and the White House to reach a deal on funding the government. Nelson has served as the International President since 2014. Some of the highlights of her time in office include passage of the FAA Reauthorization bill, the grounding of the Boeing 737 Max, a victory in the No Knives Ever Again Campaign banning knives onboard planes and has worked to create stronger sexual harassment policies within the airline industry. Nelson is known for a more militant approach to organizing and is a skilled communicator. InStyle Magazine named her one of its “50 Badass Women.”

Senator Bernie Sanders- currently the Senator from Vermont, Sanders ran against Joe Biden in the 2020 Democratic primary and ran against Hillary Clinton in 2016. Before he was a Senator, Sanders was the Mayor of Burlington Vermont and a Congressman. Sanders has a long history of advocating for workers’ rights. He has built his political record on fighting income inequality. In April 2017, Sanders introduced a $15 an hour minimum wage bill and in 2018 he introduced the Workplace Democracy Act which would ban right to work, make it easier for workers to join a union, and repeal anti-worker provisions of the Taft-Hartley act. Sanders serves on the HELP Committee. Sanders has a lifetime score from the AFL-CIO of 98% and his 2019 score was 100%. When he was running for President, Sanders promised to double union membership. While Sanders is the highest-profile person in the running for Labor Secretary there are two roadblocks that could stall his appointment. First, Vermont currently has a Republican Governor, making it likely that if Sanders left his Senate seat, Democrats would lose a seat in the Senate until the 2022 election. Currently, the Democrats are two seats down in the Senate and if they win both runoff elections in Georgia, they could be tied, with Vice President Kamala Harris being the deciding vote that gives Democrats control of the Senate. Biden will not give up that control by appointing Sanders and losing a seat in the Senate. The second problem is that if Republicans do control the Senate, they are already warning that Sanders will not be approved.

Workers are in a good position as these prospective nominees all bring a long history of working within the Labor Department or working to advocate for workers.

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