The U.S. Senate voted Monday evening to approve the nomination of Marty Walsh to the role of labor secretary, nearly two months after his confirmation hearing.
The affirmative vote comes at a critical time for the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), which is expected to play a big role in the Biden administration’s effort to help the U.S. economy bounce back from the ongoing coronavirus crisis. Beyond issues related to the surge in unemployment and the outsized impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on small businesses and communities of color, the DOL is also engaged in other key regulatory projects. Notable among these is the restatement of the fiduciary duty under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) and the implementation of provisions of the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act.
Though Walsh’s confirmation hearing presented a wealth of interesting and informative commentary from the nominee and the senators on the committee, retirement industry stakeholders might have been a bit disappointed in the end. Relatively little of the hearing’s airtime, either on the part of Walsh or the questioning senators, was dedicated to retirement security issues. Given Walsh’s deep ties to organized labor, the nominee and senators paid some attention to the multiemployer union pension funding crisis, but much more time was spent on issues such as the federal minimum wage, systemic economic inequality and the broader recovery from the pandemic.
During his nomination hearing, Walsh shared telling details about his own life and work experience, recalling how, at the age of 7, he was diagnosed with lymphoma.
“With great treatment at Boston Children’s Hospital and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, I recovered, and I’ve had an amazing experience on my life’s journey,” Walsh said. “I followed my father into his profession in my 20s, and because of the same union-provided benefits that saved my life as a child, I went into alcohol recovery. I share this story because I know first-hand how important mental health and substance abuse support is for workers. These are not just policies to me. I’ve lived them.”
Walsh’s subsequent answers to senators’ questions repeatedly highlighted his belief in the importance of implementing innovative policies to help underserved workers, especially minorities, veterans and LGBTQ individuals.