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Labor Secretary Marty Walsh speaks at the AFSCME Convention

Labor Secretary Marty Walsh reaffirmed the Biden administration's commitment to labor rights and support for AFSCME. Photo credit: Terrell Halsey
By AFSCME Staff ·

U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh addressed the 45th AFSCME International Convention on Thursday, praising the work of AFSCME over the years to advance labor and civil rights and outlining the Biden administration’s policies aimed at bolstering working people.

“Everywhere I go, I meet public employees and members of this union,” said Walsh. “They are the backbone of their communities. Your members work every day to lift others up. And more than that: you stand up for what’s right.”

Walsh was sworn in as the nation’s 29th labor secretary on March 23, 2021. Immediately before that, he served as mayor of Boston; he was first elected in 2013 and was reelected in 2017. Earlier in his career, the Boston native was a state representative in Massachusetts.

Long a friend of AFSCME’s, Walsh spoke at the 43rd International Convention in Boston when he was mayor. He said he counts AFSCME for support when he works to advance President Joe Biden’s labor agenda.

“That’s what this union has done time and time again. Organizing to give workers a voice. Fighting racism, discrimination, and oppression. Advancing the rights of all workers. That’s what this union fights for,” he said.

Walsh recounted that one of his first trips as labor secretary was to Memphis, Tennessee.

“I went to Local 1733 to speak with public works employees,” said Walsh. “Two retired members had an unforgettable impact on me. Cleo Smith and Elmore Nickleberry took part in the 1968 sanitation workers’ strike. They told me what it felt like when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. marched with them, in his final days. They stood up for their rights, and they changed our country.

 “That’s what this union has done time and time again. Organizing to give workers a voice. Fighting racism, discrimination and oppression. Advancing the rights of all workers.”

Walsh is a former tradesman who joined the Laborers’ International Union of North America as a young man before leading the Building and Construction Trades Council in Boston from 2011 to 2013. In his speech, he detailed all the opportunities the union gave him and his family.

His full biography is available here and here.

Walsh also described what the Biden administration is doing to foster union growth to meet the surging demand of workers across the country.

“Support for unions is at a 50-year high,” Walsh said in prepared remarks. “More than three-quarters of young workers say they want a union. Yet only 10% know how to form one. That’s why, at the Department of Labor, we are getting ready to launch a ‘know your rights’ campaign. And we are setting up the first-ever on-line Worker Organizing Resource Center. It’s a one-stop shop, on how to form a union.”

AFSCME and other labor unions supported Walsh’s pick to serve as pro-labor Biden’s labor secretary. Walsh took over a department that didn’t have the interests of working people at heart under the previous White House occupant.

Walsh and Vice President Kamala Harris chaired a White House task force that recommended more than 70 actions for federal agencies to take to reduce barriers to organizing and help workers raise their voice.

“At a time when working people need more freedom to organize unions, at a moment when we need the ability to exercise our collective power, we are lucky to have an unshakable ally and advocate like Marty Walsh,” AFSCME President Lee Saunders in his introductory remarks.

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