News & Commentary

November 11, 2020

Leigh Thomas

Leigh Thomas is a student at Harvard Law School.

As the Biden transition team gets to work, speculation is churning over potential candidates for Labor Secretary. President-elect Biden may meet significant resistance to his cabinet nominations depending on the makeup of the Senate following the Georgia runoff elections this January. Sharon Block, Executive Director of Harvard Law School’s Labor and Worklife Program (and OnLabor senior contributor) has been mentioned as a possible candidate by Bloomberg Law and POLITICO. The New York Times has identified four other likely candidates. First is Seth Harris, a former deputy labor secretary who served as acting secretary in 2013. Next is Andy Levin, a Michigan congressman and former labor organizer for the Service Employees International Union and later the A.F.L.-C.I.O., where he was assistant director of organizing. Also listed is Senator Bernie Sanders, who has been in discussions with the Biden team since he withdrew from the presidential race in April. Finally is Julie Su, the secretary of California’s Labor and Workforce Development Agency and a former California Labor Commissioner. Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, former head of Boston’s Building and Construction Trades Council, is yet another candidate. Bloomberg Law has reported that both Mayor Walsh and Rep. Levin have gained support from prominent union leaders. Levin received endorsements from Communications Workers of America President Chris Shelton, and UAW Vice President Cindy Estrada. Meanwhile, A.F.L.-C.I.O. President Richard Trumka has been reaching out to seek union leaders’ support for endorsing Walsh. American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten stated her support for Walsh, noting his close relationship with the president-elect as important for advancing a pro-labor agenda.

The New York Times named two current and former union leaders as possible candidates for President-elect Biden’s new Secretary of Education. Lily Eskelsen García is a former teacher and former president of the National Education Association, a labor union. Randi Weingarten is the president of the American Federation of Teachers, and formerly served as president of the United Federation of Teachers.

Exit polling has revealed gaps in union household support for President-elect Biden, Bloomberg Law reports. According to an Edison Research poll, while union votes helped Biden win Wisconsin and Michigan, a majority of union households backed President Trump in Ohio and Pennsylvania. These mixed results are troubling for Biden, who put his blue-collar roots at the center of his campaign. The discrepancies suggest that Trump’s protectionist trade policies as well as his attacks on Biden over fracking held sway for some voters. Understanding what happened could impact how far Biden is willing to go on pro-worker issues. Biden’s support for the PRO Act lies in the balance. If Republicans maintain their control of the Senate, the Biden administration may be limited to regulatory action by the NLRB and Labor Department as a means to enact labor policy.

The National Labor Relations Board released a decision Monday that identifies the conditions necessary for a union election to be held by mail-in ballot due to the coronavirus pandemic. A mail-ballot vote can be triggered if at least one of six conditions is met: (1) the NLRB office conducting the election is on mandatory telework; (2) either the 14-day trend in new Covid-19 cases in the county where the facility is located is increasing, or the 14-day testing positivity rate in that location is 5% or higher; (3) the in-person election site can’t be set up without violating mandatory state or local health orders limiting the size of gatherings; (4) the employer won’t commit to following NLRB guidance for safe, manual election; (5) a current Covid-19 outbreak at the workplace or the employer won’t reveal its current status; or, (6) other circumstances that are “similarly compelling.” The underlying case involved a union election for nurses and house supervisors at a hospital in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where the NLRB Regional Director ordered a mail-ballot election based on the extraordinary circumstances presented by the pandemic. In its decision, the NLRB remanded to the Regional Director to determine the appropriateness of a mail-ballot election in light of the outlined criteria.

The NLRB has halted at least seven mail-ballot elections to consider employer arguments for in-person voting since the start of the pandemic, according to Bloomberg. Employers tend to be skeptical of mail-ballot elections due to concerns about fraud. But unions unsurprisingly say they are hurt when mail ballots are cancelled and elections are delayed.

Enjoy OnLabor’s fresh takes on the day’s labor news, right in your inbox.