fb-pixel Skip to main content

A Labor secretary who is pro-labor? Heaven forbid.

Big business-supporting Republicans don’t like the success Marty Walsh has had in resolving labor disputes, so they want him investigated for possible ethics violations.

US Labor Secretary Marty Walsh spoke during the White House Equal Pay Day Summit on March 15.JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images

To all of you without the time or inclination to track every grimy detail of politics and policy in Washington, it may come as a surprise to learn that some people in Congress want Labor Secretary Marty Walsh investigated for ethics violations because he is, um, too pro-labor.

Maybe when they get through with Walsh, Republican representatives Rick Allen of Georgia and Virginia Foxx of North Carolina can turn their attention to the propensity of Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to be too solicitous of soldiers.

Walsh has helped end labor disputes from the Worcester nurses strike to the standoff that threatened to scuttle the Major League Baseball season.

Advertisement



But it was Walsh’s decision to visit Kellogg’s cereal workers on the picket line in Lancaster, Pa., last October that first attracted the opprobrium of Allen and Foxx. They also didn’t like Walsh’s success in Worcester, despite the fact that Walsh was invited in by both management and labor, as he has been in other labor disputes.

Labor Secretary Martin J. Walsh.Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press

Allen and Foxx have asked the Department of Labor’s inspector general to investigate whether Walsh getting directly involved in labor disputes is ethical.

It probably goes without saying that Allen and Foxx were among 147 Republican members of Congress who voted to overturn the 2020 presidential election results after the attack on the Capitol last year.

Their concern for the average American worker is touching, even if not entirely credible.

In 2016, at a meeting of House Republicans before they rejected a spending bill that included an amendment prohibiting discrimination against workers based on gender identity and sexual orientation, Allen read a Bible verse suggesting homosexuals are “worthy of death.” He told his colleagues that anyone who voted for the amendment would be committing a sin. Even some Republicans couldn’t stomach his act.

Advertisement



Foxx’s contributions to improving the workplace include introducing a bill that would force workers to undergo genetic testing and allow employers to know the genetic makeup of employees’ families. Because, hey, why would a company want an employee with a kid or a spouse who might have a chronic medical condition?

Beyond the sheer chutzpah of politicians who aren’t fazed by an attempt to subvert democracy demanding an ethics investigation, these paragons of workplace virtue do raise a legitimate question: should the US labor secretary be, you know, pro-labor?

To me, the answer is an obvious yes. The decline of organized labor in the United States has coincided with a growing gap between rich and poor, as well as a shrinking of the middle class that made the United States what flag-wavers like Allen and Foxx say is the greatest country on earth.

Faced with just those two indisputable facts, why shouldn’t the labor secretary be actively engaged in trying to end labor disputes while standing with workers who want better wages and working conditions?

When Walsh was running for mayor of Boston, and even after his election, some questioned whether a big labor guy like him could steer the city’s growth without alienating developers and entrepreneurs. As with Republicans today, the knock on Walsh then was that he was too cozy with labor.

Walking through the Seaport on Sunday, I was struck by just how much that area has grown and continues to grow.

Advertisement



Maybe the Seaport’s too developed, and maybe development in other neighborhoods suffered as a result, but after $48 billion in development and 140,000 jobs were created under his administration, can anybody seriously argue that Walsh’s pro-labor ethos as mayor stifled economic development?

The irony of right-wingers who bang on about God and the evils of sinners going after Walsh is that the secular socialists aren’t too fond of him, either.

Walsh’s appearance on the Kellogg’s picket line led a skeptical Tim Rivers at the World Socialist Web Site to declare: “Walsh exemplifies the corrupt corporatist relations between the unions, the corporations and the capitalist state which Biden is seeking to develop.”

When both the far left and the far right are mad at you, you must be doing something right.


Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at kevin.cullen@globe.com.