President Biden's nominee for labor secretary dismissed concerns about job losses brought on by the president's executive actions during his confirmation hearing Thursday.
Boston mayor Marty Walsh said that the workers left unemployed by environmental regulations would be able to transfer their skills to the "new economy." He downplayed the extended timeline necessary to transform the workforce, even as more than 1,000 energy jobs have disappeared with the closing of the Keystone Pipeline and other executive actions in January.
"That pipe fitter will have opportunities in that economy, that ironworker will have opportunities in that economy. … All of those different traits and skills that people have in this country will have great opportunity in this new economy," Walsh said.
President Biden has said that he hopes to achieve a 100 percent clean-energy economy by 2050.
Senate Republicans criticized Walsh's dismissal of present-day job losses. Sen. Bill Cassidy (R., La.) said that the economic transformation cannot occur quickly enough to help blue collar workers hurt by the immediate transition away from fossil fuels.
"Is there a sense of when the first of those jobs will come out, knowing that the money hasn't even been appropriated yet, and it's got to filter its way through the system, and there have to be bids made?" Cassidy asked. "I think it's reasonable to say it will be quite some time, but the guy's got a mortgage payment next month."
Walsh touted government-backed job training programs to help unemployed workers transition into new roles.
Such job losses would be only exacerbated by radical labor reforms Walsh and Biden have embraced. Senate Republicans also criticized Walsh's support for the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, which would radically reorganize the labor force by limiting the use of independent contractors and mandating that employees pay union fees even if they do not want to join the union. Independent contractors are estimated to make up approximately 10 percent of the U.S. workforce. Congressional Democrats reintroduced the act shortly after Walsh's hearing Thursday.
Sen. Tim Scott (R., S.C.) took aim at the PRO Act's threat to weaken right-to-work laws, which currently exist in 27 mostly Republican-supporting states.
"Overnight, those 27 states lose their ability to be right-to-work states," Scott said. "That is devastating for the economic future of this nation, devastating for those employees within those states, and frankly a bad decision and a poor start for this administration."
The PRO Act faced a difficult road to passage during its initial consideration, but Democrats' narrow majority in the Senate may be enough to propel it to Biden's desk. Biden has already signaled his support for labor unions, which donated more than $1 million to his presidential campaign. He threatened to impose "a personal price" on employers who resist efforts to unionize.
Major labor unions praised Walsh's support for organized labor, indicating that Walsh will further Biden's pledge to be the most pro-union president in American history.