U.S. Labor Secretary Martin J. Walsh, who is formerly Boston mayor and a top official at the regional building trades unions, will leave his federal post in mid-March to become executive director of the National Hockey League Players’ Association, the union and Walsh have announced.

In an email sent to Dept. of Labor employees on Feb. 16, Walsh said he had met with President Joe Biden “and he accepted that my time as Labor Secretary will conclude mid-March.”

The announcements followed many media reports in recent days that Walsh would be leaving his cabinet post for the players' union job.

Deputy Secretary Julie Su will become acting secretary, under a department statute, an agency spokesperson told ENR via email. She was confirmed to the position in July 2021.

Walsh praised Su, former secretary of the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency that enforces workplace laws and oversees occupational safety and health, for her “exceptional work and support.” He said she is “an incredible leader and has been central to our success as a team and as a department."

The Senate confirmed Walsh as Secretary of Labor in March 2021. Before that, he served as Boston mayor for seven years and also had been elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives, serving for 16 years. 

Walsh joined Laborers’ International Union of North America Local 223 in Boston when he was 21, with his father also a union member, and became the local’s president. In 2011, Walsh was named to lead the Boston Building and Construction Trades Council, a group composed of many construction unions in the area. He left that position in 2013 to run for mayor.

An ENR 2020 Newsmaker

ENR named Walsh one of its 25 Newsmakers for 2020, for being the first mayor of a major U.S. city to temporarily halt construction during the initial outbreak of COVID-19 early that year. 

In December 2020, about nine months after the pause took effect, Walsh helped coordinate health specialists, unions and construction industry executives on COVID-related protocols, who developed a testing, tracing and treatment initiative for construction workers.

He told ENR at the time that he was proud that Boston "paused construction early and implemented safety guidance to keep workers and their families safe."

In recounting Labor Dept. actions since he became secretary, Walsh told department staff, "We promoted every worker’s right to form a union, rallied the entire federal government to advance labor rights and provided critical information and support to workers during a historic surge in union organizing activity.”

He added: "We brought high-quality, equitable job training and career pathways to more workers in more places and across more industries."

Industry Organizations React to Move

James Young, senior director of congressional relations, HR, labor and safety for the Associated General Contractors of America, says that while AGC did not always agree with department decisions and policies tunder Walsh, there were areas of common ground, and he typically took a collaborative approach. “He certainly understood the challenges our industry faces more than any other secretary of labor before him,” Young told ENR. 

During his tenure, Walsh has emphasized the need for expanding the domestic workforce through apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs with the large amount of work expected as a result of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the Inflation Reduction Act. He also had an interest in mental health-related safety issues. Both of these interests are also priorities for AGC, Young said.

Su is still somewhat unknown in Washington, D.C., and in the construction industry, Young noted. With her background in law and regulatory enforcement at the state level, “We’ll have to see how she brings that regulatory enforcement at the federal level and if it’s different from what we’ve seen over last two years.”

LIUNA General President Terry O'Sullivan praised Walsh as "a working class warrior" and "one of our own. He understands the value and importance of labor-management cooperation." 

Among Walsh's accomplishments, O'Sullivan pointed to a department proposal to revise prevailing-wage rules. He says that, among other things, the revision would increase enforcement, halt "wage theft" and modernize how wages are set.

Regarding Su, O'Sullivan said, "She has a strong track record, and we are eager to continue the progress made ... on the implementation of the prevailing-wage update."

The text of the article was updated on 2/17/2023 with comments from AGC of America and LIUNA. 

Story changed on 2/21/2023 to correct spelling of Deputy Secretary of Labor Julie Su's surname.