Marty Walsh will likely soon lead the Department of Labor during one its most complicated chapters. The pandemic is still raging, and the official unemployment rate stands at 6.3%, though Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said on Feb. 10 that it's probably closer to 10% due to misclassification errors.
But while those issues will almost surely be top of mind for Mr. Walsh, who has served as Boston's mayor since 2014, work on day-to-day retirement issues at the Labor Department's Employee Benefits Security Administration is expected to continue, sources in the retirement community said.
"EBSA doesn't have to worry about what's happening at (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration)," which handles and monitors worker safety issues, said Barbara Roper, Pueblo, Colo.-based director of investor protection at the Consumer Federation of America. “They’re different divisions within the Department of Labor. I think there a lot of important priorities that the department will be dealing with, but I think they can walk and chew gum at the same time, or maybe run the hurdles and chew gum at the same time.”
However, at Mr. Walsh’s Feb. 4 confirmation hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, retirement issues weren’t a focus. Most committee members asked questions of Mr. Walsh on getting people back to work, protecting workers during the pandemic, boosting unemployment insurance and improving job training programs.
Toward the end of the hearing, though, he was asked about the mounting multiemployer pension crisis and he committed to help address the issue.
And while the solution likely requires a congressional compromise, Mr. Walsh could be helpful to the negotiation, sources said.
During the hearing, Mr. Walsh spoke of his past experiences running a major city and his extensive union background — including leading the Boston Metropolitan District Building Trades Council from 2011 to 2013 — and the importance of bringing parties with differing agendas together to hash out agreements.
“Marty Walsh combines progressive values with a long history of bringing together stakeholders to solve difficult problems,” Chris Lu, who served as deputy secretary of labor during the Obama administration and led the Biden-Harris transition team’s review of the Labor Department, said in an email. “He’ll be a critical asset to President Biden in protecting workers during the pandemic and rebuilding the economy so it works on behalf of all Americans.”
Senators on both sides of the aisle spoke highly of Mr. Walsh during his hearing, and on Feb. 11 the Senate HELP Committee approved his nomination in an 18-4 vote.
Mr. Walsh’s nomination will now head to the full Senate. A vote there has not yet been scheduled.