‘Bout’ for Secretary of Labor

Photo Credit: Tom Williams / CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images file & Lexey Swall for The New York Times

With Richard Trumka Jr. leading the fight against household appliances, the White House’s vetting of candidates for Secretary of Labor has taken a topical backseat. Julie Su, the labor department’s deputy secretary, maintains that she wants to continue to fight for the “forgotten and unseen”. While flight attendant union president, Sara Nelson, recently made a trip to Wisconsin to promote her competence in leading an era of labor rights and egalitarianism only rivaled by FDR’s New Deal. With foreshocks of a deep recession, there couldn’t be a better time for to be a union member.

Before joining the Biden administration, Su served as California’s labor commissioner and then as the secretary for the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency, where she oversaw the rollout of California’s gig work law. AB5 was a win for gig workers as well as their families, while at the same time, focusing on core issues rather than mindless taxation. Of course, with the caveat of companies offsetting employee benefits with lower compensation. Nelson’s trip to the cheese state was successful and highlighted by a visit to the University of Wisconsin where she delivered a staunch address to the Teaching Assistants Association. Based on her visit with state legislators, Nelson’s focus seems to be on anti-labor laws which indicates that she’s promoting the DE&I angle. Her other talking points include imposing mask mandates on commercial flights along with protocol for dealing with disgruntled flyers. Despite who makes it into the cabinet role, the fact remains that union engagement likely played a role in mitigating unemployment during the pandemic for members and even non-members alike.

During the last three years, 12% of workers were represented by a union even though 10% were actually union. The remaining 2% were non-union workers in bargaining units that were protected. This has been possible since the Taft-Hartley Act, and depending on the state this can happen with or without mandated fees. As in ‘fair share’ states or ‘right to work’ states, respectively. Union representation appears to be a trending topic since its battle tested adequacy during the pandemic and its ability to encapsulate recession-proof regulation for the benefit of the working class.

Julie Su is President Biden’s choice for the position. She is currently waiting on confirmation from the full Senate where the confirmation process has stalled due to a lack of necessary votes. However, she remains the Acting Secretary of Labor in the interim.

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