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Andy Levin Lands New Union Backing to Be Biden’s Labor Secretary

Nov. 13, 2020, 7:52 PM

The nation’s largest labor organization of registered nurses has urged President-elect Joe Biden to tap Rep. Andy Levin (D-Mich.) for labor secretary, marking at least the fourth union to endorse the freshman lawmaker.

The 150,000-member National Nurses United sent the Biden transition team a letter Thursday in support of Levin, NNU Political Director Ken Zinn told Bloomberg Law.

United Auto Workers, Communications Workers of America, and Utility Workers Union of America previously told Bloomberg News they’d sent letters backing Levin, who has deep ties to organized labor. All four unions hold seats on the executive council of the AFL-CIO union federation.

Levin, who was an assistant director of organizing at the AFL-CIO from 1995-2006, has experience at the Labor Department in the Bill Clinton administration as an adviser to then-Labor Secretary Robert Reich.

“Rep. Levin has a proven track record over many decades as a trade unionist, government official, and legislator standing up for working families,” NNU’s Zinn said in a statement.

Breaking With Trumka

The nurses union’s endorsement of the Michigan Democrat deepened a split among AFL-CIO members over the question of who Biden should select to join his Cabinet as head of the Labor Department.

The leaders of the AFL-CIO’s two largest unions—Lee Saunders, president of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, and Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers—have both endorsed Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, a former construction union leader, for the post.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka has been reaching out this week to seek union leaders’ support for Walsh, labor officials familiar with the conversations told Bloomberg News. Walsh told reporters Thursday the Biden transition hasn’t contacted him about the post.

Numerous other potential labor secretary contenders have been mentioned by labor insiders or Democratic officials, including: Obama DOL officials Sharon Block and Seth Harris, and California Labor Secretary Julie Su.

National Nurses United hasn’t shied away from breaking with Trumka in making political endorsements in the past.

The nurses union backed Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in both his 2016 and 2020 campaigns to serve as the Democratic presidential nominee, while the AFL-CIO endorsed Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden in those two races. Sanders is also interested in being Biden’s labor secretary, Politico reported last month.

NNU’s endorsement of Levin comes as the union’s membership has been deeply affected by virus-related workplace issues, an issue Biden’s labor secretary would have the ability to address.

The union’s statement said Levin “would be an excellent choice to carry out President-Elect Biden’s agenda to ‘build back better’ and do it in a way that will empower workers, ensure they enjoy the benefits of a recovery, and make sure nurses and other essential workers get the occupational health and safety protections they so badly need during this pandemic.”

Earlier this year, the nurses union asked Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia to direct the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration to issue an emergency temporary standard that would require employers to protect workers from Covid-19 infection—and criticized the department for refusing to take that step.

“The Biden-Harris Transition team has not made any personnel decisions at this time,” a transition spokesman said in a statement when asked about Levin’s latest endorsement.

A spokeswoman for the AFL-CIO didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Levin, who union officials say has been making his case for the labor secretary position to Trumka and other union leaders, told Bloomberg News on Sunday that he would “put all of my heart and soul” into helping Biden bolster workers’ strength.

—With assistance from Josh Eidelson

To contact the reporter on this story: Ben Penn in Washington at bpenn@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: John Lauinger at jlauinger@bloomberglaw.com; Jay-Anne B. Casuga at jcasuga@bloomberglaw.com

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