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Ex-Steelworkers Safety Official, Obama Alums to Join Biden’s DOL

Jan. 19, 2021, 10:25 PM

The Biden transition team plans to install former United Steelworkers safety official Jim Frederick as acting chief of the Labor Department’s workplace safety agency on Inauguration Day, part of a team of interim leaders who will help jump start the new administration’s labor and employment agenda.

Frederick is scheduled to begin work remotely on Wednesday, after President-elect Joe Biden is sworn in. He will join a group of Obama administration alums and other workplace policy professionals who will begin serving in temporary roles across the Labor Department on Wednesday or in coming days, according to several sources briefed on the process. Many could stay on permanently, some as second-in-command at their respective subagencies.

The incoming administration plans to flood the DOL with political appointees in acting roles, to quickly address urgent priorities tied to the pandemic-driven workforce crisis and to start work on reversing regulations enacted by the Trump administration.

Frederick, who retired last year after 24 years as United Steelworkers’ assistant health and safety director, will have a hand in addressing Biden’s call for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to advance an enforceable regulation that would require employers to take steps to protect workers from contracting Covid-19 while on the job.

The roster of roughly 20 DOL political appointees Biden’s transition staff has assembled includes Obama administration veterans Patricia Smith, Raj Nayak, Tanya Goldman, and Michelle Rose, according to the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations. They cautioned that the process is fluid and that arrival dates and job titles are subject to change.

Rose, a former DOL legislative officer and chief of staff to then-Deputy Labor Secretary Chris Lu, will be the acting leader of the Office of Congressional and Intergovernmental Affairs.

Goldman, who was a senior policy adviser at the Wage and Hour Division and then a member of the DOL’s Administrative Review Board, has been assigned to the role of interim head of the policy office.

Smith, the DOL solicitor for most of the Obama administration, and Nayak, who was most recently deputy chief of staff to then-Labor Secretary Tom Perez, will be working on unspecified Biden DOL initiatives.

Collectively, they’ll begin to implement Biden’s plan to reorient the DOL’s sprawling bureaucracy in workers’ direction, while the administration works to get Senate-confirmed leaders in place, including Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, the nominee for labor secretary.

In addition to heeding Biden’s call for an OSHA standard that mandates workplace Covid-19 protections for workers, the new political hires will lead action on several other priority areas. That includes helping states extend unemployment benefits to workers sidelined due to the pandemic, working with Congress to pass legislation to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, and zeroing in on pay equity and other issues to improve the lot of women and people of color on the job.

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; Andrew Harris at aharris@bloomberglaw.com

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