Patrick Gaspard, who is departing as president of George Soros’ Open Society Foundations, is phoning union leaders to ask for their support in his newly-launched campaign to serve as President-elect
Gaspard—a former political director in the Obama White House, ambassador to South Africa, and executive vice president for a Service Employees International Union affiliate—is widely respected in Democratic politics and organized labor. Several of the unions he’s communicated with in recent days have said they’d back him if the president-elect asked, two of the sources said.
An attempt to reach Gaspard through an Open Society media representative wasn’t immediately successful, but a source close to Gaspard said, “I can confirm that he’s being considered and would be absolutely honored to serve if he’s nominated.”
The next labor secretary will be a key player in the Biden administration’s efforts to repair the pandemic-related damage to the economy, with responsibility over state unemployment insurance programs, protecting workers from on-the-job Covid-19 infection, and enforcing emergency paid-leave provisions.
Some sources cautioned that Gaspard’s close ties to liberal billionaire philanthropist George Soros, a major backer of liberal political causes who has been villified by the right and targeted by conspiracy theorists, may present a challenge for Gaspard to get confirmed, if Biden were to select him. That would be especially true if Republicans retain their Senate majority following two runoff elections in Georgia on Jan. 5. Republicans currently hold a 50-48 edge in the chamber.
That potential roadblock could compel Biden to go in a different direction for labor secretary. Other names that’ve drawn endorsements include Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, Rep. Andy Levin (D-Mich.), and California Labor Secretary Julie Su.
The Soros-run Open Society Foundations, where Gaspard has worked since 2017—initially as vice president before his promotion to president in 2018—announced Friday that he’d be leaving his perch, effective January. This fueled speculation that he could emerge as a contender to head Biden’s Department of Labor, according to an Axios report.
Several sources familiar with the Biden labor transition planning but who aren’t part of the secretary selection process view Gaspard as a serious contender for labor secretary due to his close working relationship with the president-elect, his roots in organized labor, and ability as a Black man to bring diversity to the Cabinet.
“He’s an extraordinary leader who has always had both his heart and his work aligned with the labor movement,” said Andy Stern, a former president of SEIU when Gaspard served as executive vice president and political director for SEUI Local 1199. “His work at SEIU and then his work as the president’s political director always had a distinct focus and relationship with workers and unions.”
Stern said he hadn’t spoken with Gaspard recently and didn’t know that he was interested in heading DOL.
Sean Savett, a spokesman for the Biden transition team, declined to comment.