Labor Secretary Marty Walsh says he sees the unionization efforts at Starbucks and Amazon are signs of a revitalizing labor movement.
"I think there's a potential to be long term, I really do," he said, referencing polls that show decades-high levels of support for organized labor.
According to data from the Pew Research Center, just 10 percent of American workers belonged to a union last year — half of what it was in 1983.
In Walsh's first appearance on Boston Public Radio Friday since stepping down as mayor of Boston more than a year ago, he put the waves of U.S. labor organizing in context with mass resignations during the pandemic.
"Last month we had 4.5 million quits in America, people left their jobs looking for better jobs," he said. "We're having a lot of conversations about the future of work, what it looks like here in America. People are not going to settle for just an average job anymore — they're looking for something better. I think collective bargaining, organized labor, helps and assists in that, and I think we're going to see more and more organizing."
Host Jim Braude pressed Walsh on campaign promises from Biden to reform the labor laws to strengthen worker power in the United States. The Protecting the Right to Organize Act passed the House in March but does not have the 60 votes needed to pass the Senate.
Walsh responded that Biden is "looking to get some components of it in other pieces of legislation," and that the Department of Labor is looking at other avenues to pass those reforms.
Walsh said organized labor has an obligation to "not sit back on their laurels and let it happen; go out and be aggressive and organize."
Braude also pushed Walsh to speak to the frustration of some Americans about gridlock in Congress, with Republicans and some moderate Democrats like Sen. Joe Manchin not budging to support large parts of the president's agenda.
"Is President Biden ready to strangle Joe Manchin?" Braude asked.
"I don't think so," dismissed Walsh. "One thing President Biden prides himself on is working bipartisan across the aisle."
Walsh highlighted the bipartisan infrastructure package, which promises to create more union construction jobs, and other successes Biden has had during his first term — "about 8.6 million people going back to work, I think about 450,000 more manufacturing jobs in America."
But he acknowledged that inflation and pocketbook issues are top of mind for Americans right now. Walsh urged people not to lose sight of the war in Ukraine, which has put pressures on oil and gas production from the war in Ukraine, and the continued disruptions from the pandemic.
"People are concerned about inflation, people are concerned about the economy," he said. "The president had a plan last year to get Americans back to work, it's the fastest recovery in the beginning of any presidency. Unemployment claims right now are the lowest since 1969. However, we're dealing with inflationary pressures."