Bloomberg Law
July 25, 2022, 9:45 AM

Punching In: DOL Chief’s Role in Union Disputes Under Scrutiny

Rebecca Rainey
Rebecca Rainey
Paige Smith
Paige Smith

Monday morning musings for workplace watchers.

Questions for Walsh|Congress’ Labor Plans

Rebecca Rainey: House Education and Labor Committee ranking member Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) is pressing the Labor Department for more details about Labor Secretary Marty Walsh’s participation in union disputes.

Foxx is requesting, for the third time, information on whether Walsh sought ethics advice from the Office of Legal Counsel before joining workers in a picket line outside a Pennsylvania Kellogg’s plant last year. Foxx said Walsh had agreed to release the information when she asked him about it directly at a June hearing, but has yet to receive it.

“Your silence on this issue has been deafening. If you have fulfilled your obligations to follow legal and ethical procedures on the matter of your visit to the Kellogg’s plant, why are you unwilling to provide evidence to support this?” the latest July 19 letter to Walsh said.

The North Carolina Republican’s series of requests forecast the potential oversight agenda Walsh could face from the House labor committee if Republicans were to take over the chamber in the November midterms. Foxx and other Republicans have raised concerns about whether Walsh is getting proper legal clearance before involving himself in other labor fights, especially as contract negotiations between the union representing west coast dockworkers and their employer have extended past the current contract’s expiration on July 1.

Walsh’s willingness to step into union disputes, like with the port workers or offering a hand in the Major League Baseball lockout earlier this year, “makes it even more important for Members of Congress and the public to understand whether you are meeting your obligations to receive ethics advice,” Foxx argued. She said the transparency from DOL is necessary to understand whether Walsh should be recused from participating “in enforcement actions against parties whose disputes you involve yourself in.”

A spokesperson for the agency said DOL has received the letters and is reviewing them.

Historically, it’s not entirely unusual for DOL officials to get involved in labor disputes.

In 2002 during another West Coast port contract fight, it was then-Solicitor of Labor Eugene Scalia, who would later serve as Labor Secretary under the Trump administration, who contacted the union and port operators to propose a contract extension, a move initially praised by union leaders at the time. While union leaders agreed to the 30-day extension, port companies rejected it.

Former President George W. Bush later invoked the Taft-Hartley Act to reopen the ports, after the Pacific Maritime Association locked out workers who had staged a series of work slowdowns.


Republicans Request Investigation of Walsh’s Labor Negotiations

White House Won’t Yet Step Into Rail, Port Talks as Clock Ticks

U.S. Labor Chief Eyes Dockworker Talks Amid Disruption Fears

Labor Secretary Walsh Makes Pitch to Help End Baseball Lockout

Demonstrators during a union workers strike against Kellog Co. in Battle Creek, Mich., on Friday, Dec. 17, 2021.
Photographer: Elaine Cromie/Bloomberg

Paige Smith: The US House could consider a fiscal 2023 funding measure for the Department of Labor this week—but it’s not looking great. Timing aside, House appropriators would like the agency to examine everything from warehouse worker treatment to training for electric vehicle mechanics—asks we’re unsure will make it into a final budget bill, but convey pressing workplace issues that are top of mind for Democrats.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said the timing for when the lower chamber will consider the remaining six funding bills—including the Labor Department’s—is now up in the air, despite the House passing a six-bill government funding package last week. Hoyer’s update for the House floor schedule didn’t mention appropriations measures. The House Appropriations Committee advanced the $15 billion budget for the Department of Labor on June 30.

Read more: House Appropriators Grant Labor Agencies $15 Billion in FY 2023

Tucked into the report on the measure are a number of requests for the agency:

Electric vehicles: The DOL, in conjunction with unions and industry groups, should develop training programs to encourage workers to become electric vehicle mechanics.

Domestic workers: Bill language would direct the DOL’s Wage and Hour Division to create a national domestic worker hotline to encourage misconduct reporting.

Worker classification: The committee urged the WHD to “use the full extent of its existing powers” to enforce employee classification laws, an effort to crack down on the widespread practice of deeming workers independent contractors instead of employees.

Warehouse workers: The Labor Department should crack down on “wage theft” from warehouse workers, considering their outsized role during the Covid-19 pandemic.

OSHA penalties: The Occupational Safety and Health Administration should up its penalties levied against employers that violate health and safety laws.

Whether these requests make it into a final appropriations bill remains to be seen, but they preview what the Biden administration would like to see the Labor Department act on.

We’re punching out. Daily Labor Report subscribers, please check in for updates during the week, and feel free to reach out to us.

To contact the reporters on this story: Rebecca Rainey in Washington at; Paige Smith in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Genevieve Douglas at; Laura D. Francis at

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