Marty Walsh Morning Future
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Best Practice 12 March Mar 2021 0831 12 March 2021

Marty Walsh, former union leader and President Biden's Labour Secretary

The Biden administration's new labour secretary, a former mayor of Boston, has an extensive record as a trade union member. He now faces the challenge of post-pandemic job recovery

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Only a 'Roadrunner' could choose 'Roadrunner' as the rock anthem of his home state of Massachusetts. The Modern Lovers' 1997 song perfectly embodies Marty Walsh more than their shared geographical origin from the eastern United States. This is perhaps the sole light-hearted episode in the life of the Biden administration's new labour secretary, who has always stood out for his hard work and sweat, first as a union leader and then as a politician.

Representing his state, the former mayor of Boston signed a bill to make the song the official rock anthem of Massachusetts. The songwriter, Jonathan Rickman, voiced his disapproval "because the song was not good enough to represent this state on any level."

The real 'Roadrunner', however, is Marty Walsh, who for the last 30 years has never once wavered when confronted with the obstacles he has to face in life and work. The first one at the age of seven: his battle against Burkitt's lymphoma forced him to skip grammar school and repeat fifth grade. But that did not stop him. After graduating from the Wood College of Advancing Studies, he began working for the builders' union, the Building and Construction Trades Council, where he joined at the age of 21 and stepped away after 25 years to run for mayor of the state capital, Boston.

His Building Pathways programme proved itself as a true model for increasing diversity in the workplace and opening solid career opportunities for women and people of colour. While working for the union, Walsh also represented his home district of Dorchester in the state congress by serving as co-chair of the public housing reform committee.

If (undocumented immigrants) want to live here, they'll live here. They can use my office. They can use any office in this building

His breakthrough year, however, was 2013, when he was elected mayor of Boston, securing reelection in 2017. Under his leadership, Boston faced seemingly insurmountable obstacles. One of these was former US President Donald Trump, against whom Walsh officially took sides. "If (undocumented immigrants) want to live here, they'll live here. They can use my office. They can use any office in this building," he said, incurring the wrath of the president, who was ready to withdraw federal funding for the city if it did not comply with Washington's immigration guidelines.

No less significant was the outcry from the Black Lives Matter movement, which called on the mayor to reduce funding to the police by 10%, on the grounds of violence against the black community. Walsh responded by reducing funding by 3% and simultaneously initiating a serious reform and re-education programme for all police officers.

Walsh's seven years as mayor were years in which Boston achieved some major milestones, such as building new affordable housing and providing aid to more than 1,700 homeless people, with a particular focus on veterans living on the streets. Boston's middle class also received a major helping hand. Under the Walsh administration, Boston gained 100,000 more jobs and a fixed minimum wage of $15 per hour.

A huge re-training plan will be needed to foster job transitions to high growth sectors

Significant help was also given to families, with paid family leave and universal daycare for all, and to students, ensuring a tuition-free community college for all Boston Public Schools graduates. The mayor also propelled Boston to the forefront of the innovation economy, attracting major companies in the sector and upgrading the city's digital infrastructure, including a parking meter payment app and the city's website.

Boston also set up the country's first Office of Recovery Services for substance abuse disorders, an issue that Walsh, who emerged from alcohol addiction as a young man, has always felt particularly strongly about. The city has always stood on the front line in the fight against climate change, a factor of no small importance, especially since the US pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreement during the Trump presidency. Boston has implemented a Resilient Harbour Plan to protect itself from rising seas, and is committed to reaching zero emissions by 2050.

Of course, there has been no lack of controversy over the years. Like the one in 2019, when John Lynch, a former Boston Development and Planning Agency official, pleaded guilty to bribery for accepting a $50,000 bribe. This scandal cast doubts on the culture of his town hall, even though Walsh was never directly implicated in any scandal. The issue resurfaced again after the Biden selection. Several unions in fact did not support the president's choice, including United Farm Workers, United Auto Workers and National Nurses United.

In his present role as the new US Secretary of Labour, Walsh faces major challenges now that the pandemic has left millions of Americans out of work. Many jobs will never come back and a huge re-training plan will be needed for the country to foster job transitions to high growth sectors. Will he manage to run as fast this time

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