Marty Walsh has work to do in DC

And in Boston before he leaves for Labor Dept.

WASHINGTON HAS BEEN rid of Donald Trump for two weeks, but much of the damage he has done to our country and the pain he has inflicted on Americans will remain with us long after he leaves the White House.

But despite his best efforts, not all of Donald Trump’s destruction is irreparable.

Since he took office, Trump’s Department of Labor was laser-focused on viciously dismantling established protections for workers in this country.  Under the ruthless stewardship of Eugene Scalia, the mission of Trump’s Labor Department was turned on its head.  The Department that once prioritized the worker became one focused on maximizing profits for shareholders and friends of the Trump Administration occupying C-Suites across America.  The carnage Scalia left behind is evidence of the disdain he and Trump have for working people in this country – despite Trump’s false claim to be standing up for regular people who had been forgotten by past administrations.

With President Biden’s nomination of Mayor Marty Walsh to take the helm at Labor, there is opportunity to reverse much of the damage Scalia has inflicted on the department.  But Walsh must act quickly.

Mere hours after the Trump-inspired terrorists sieged the Capitol, the Department of Labor issued a final rule that would deal a death blow to millions of workers if allowed to take effect.  If implemented, these regulations would make it even easier for corporations to shortchange and take advantage of their employees, by allowing them to classify them as independent contractors.

The new rule is aimed at allowing powerful corporations to abandon their obligations to their employees and deny them basic employment benefits.  It would deprive workers of their right to minimum wage and overtime under federal law. The economic impact on low-wage workers would be devastating.  The toll would be felt by workers across the spectrum, harming rideshare drivers, food delivery drivers, cleaners, call center workers, manual laborers, and millions of others.

But the secretary of labor has a lot of power, and Walsh can not only prevent this rule from taking effect, but he can completely reverse its intent, and expand worker protections.

Admittedly, the rules governing worker classification have not been crystal clear for some time, unless you live in a state like Massachusetts.  Here, we have a longstanding rule that provides clarity on the question of whether a worker is an employee, and thus entitled to basic hard-won protections and benefits, or an independent contractor without any of the protections afforded to employees.  This rule – known as the ABC test – has come under fire from corporations who are more interested in their own bottom line than treating their workers with dignity and respect.

In California, the worker-centered rule fell victim to these corporations just months ago, with the passage of a ballot initiative called Proposition 22 (which the gig economy has vowed to spread nationwide, including in Massachusetts).

On day one, Walsh’s Department of Labor should immediately reverse the new rule that Scalia just pushed through and instead adopt the ABC test at the federal level.

Doing so would help protect millions of American workers, a disproportionate number of whom are people of color.  Men and women of color have suffered the greatest as a result of actions and inaction by this Labor Department.  Walsh can reverse some of these impacts, but unfortunately the city’s record of unfairly treating minority employees leaves room for concern.

For years, the city has fought to defend a police promotional exam that has been found by a federal judge to be discriminatory against black and Hispanic police officers.  Despite repeated rulings against the city, the Walsh administration has chosen to continue to spend precious taxpayer dollars appealing the court’s decisions.

Just as the Trump administration’s actions impact real people, Mayor Walsh’s decision to prolong this fight harms these officers and has impeded efforts to ensure that Boston police supervisors reflect the community they serve.  Amid the ongoing reckoning our city and our country are facing in matters of race and police accountability, it is unconscionable that the mayor of Boston has continued to defend a system that has discriminated against officers of color and perpetuated a department where nearly all of the officers in the higher ranks are white.

Before packing for DC, though, Mayor Walsh can correct his mistakes, if he wants to end his tenure here committed to the goal of racial justice he claims to champion. Walsh is still mayor and can and should right this wrong before he leaves office.

Meet the Author

Shannon Liss-Riordan

Labor attorney, Lichten & Liss-Riordan
Failing to do so would be antithetical to the mission of the department Walsh seeks to lead.

Shannon Liss-Riordan is a labor attorney with Lichten and Liss-Riordan.