Former Obama Labor Department official Seth Harris has joined the White House as a top adviser to President Joe Biden on labor issues, an administration official said Tuesday.
A former acting and deputy labor secretary, Harris will coordinate the White House’s relationship with labor groups and efforts on workers’ rights. His title is deputy assistant to the president for labor and the economy.
Harris joins the White House after Biden on Sunday weighed in on a campaign to unionize an Amazon.com Inc. warehouse in Alabama, offering support for workers who seek to organize without outright endorsing the union.
Harris’s work will touch on worker organizing, collective bargaining and labor standards enforcement, among other issues, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the hire before it was announced. He will work closely with the Domestic Policy Council, the National Economic Council and other parts of the administration.
“Seth has a broad base of knowledge about the labor community,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in an interview. “He’ll help the president tremendously in the White House and help working people in the country.”
Harris was the Biden campaign’s top adviser on labor issues and a member of the Labor Department transition team. He was deputy labor secretary from 2009 to 2014 and spent six months during that period as acting secretary. He also spent more than six years in the Clinton administration’s Labor Department.
“Unions are a key ingredient to having a better life because what you can do through collective action and collective bargaining most of us can’t do alone. Seth Harris knows that,” American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said of her friend of 35 years.
In Harris, the administration has added a seasoned federal workplace policy official to coordinate labor issues after Biden’s Labor Department nominees thus far are both newcomers to Washington -- Boston Mayor Marty Walsh for Labor secretary and California Labor Secretary Julie Su for deputy. As both await Senate confirmation, the White House has directed the Labor Department to urgently consider emergency regulation that would require businesses to protect workers from Covid-19 infection.
Harris has faced criticism from the left for working at the law firm Dentons after leaving the Obama administration. The firm has represented employers including Walmart Inc. in labor disputes.
Harris also co-authored a 2015 paper proposing the creation of a new intermediate category of protections for gig workers such as Uber Technologies Inc. and Lyft Inc. drivers, in which they would receive some employment protections such as non-discrimination, but not others like the minimum wage. Lyft cited that paper in a November press release celebrating the passage of California Prop 22, a ballot measure bankrolled by gig companies that designated their workers as contractors rather than employees, while providing them a limited set of alternative benefits.