Transport unions laud Buttigieg, Biden pick for Transport Secretary
Transport unions are happy with Joe Biden's choice of Pete Buttigieg for his Cabinet as Secretary of Transportation. Buttigieg will be both the youngest and the first openly gay person to be part of a president's Cabinet. | AP

WASHINGTON—Transportation unions and LGBTQ groups are lauding President-Elect Joe Biden’s nomination of former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg to be Secretary of Transportation once Biden takes over the Oval Office on Jan. 20. If confirmed, Buttigieg would be the first-ever openly gay U.S. Cabinet member.

Meanwhile, the Office and Professional Employees are pushing for Rep. Andy Levin, D-Mich., who got his union start as a Service Employees organizer and rose to eventually become the AFL-CIO’s Deputy Organizing Director, to head the Labor Department.

Biden’s moves came as he was formally certified as president-elect, following the votes of all 538 Electoral College members from the 50 states and Washington, D.C., on Dec. 14. As expected, Biden won 306-232 over his foe, current GOP Oval Office occupant Donald Trump.

And despite rumblings of trouble from Trumpite extremists, the balloting, in both blue and red states, was peaceful. But Trumpite extremist Proud Boys rioted in D.C. before that.

“We look forward to working with Pete Buttigieg to tackle the transportation challenges facing our nation including protecting transit workers on the job, reauthorization of the surface transportation bill, and most importantly building back our public transit systems that have been decimated by the COVID-19  (coronavirus) pandemic,” said Amalgamated Transit Union President John Costa. He particularly noted Buttigieg’s support for unionized transit workers.

“In the summer of 2019, while on the campaign trail, Pete met with our striking members working for the VTA on Martha’s Vineyard. He showed a willingness to listen to our members’ concerns and expressed support for our cause. We’re hopeful he will lead the Department of Transportation with public transit workers and labor unions in mind,” Costa said.

AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department Secretary-Treasurer Greg Regan sounded the same theme. Buttigieg “understands working people keep America moving, and his desire to support working families, combined with his deep passion for policy, will serve him well in this role.”

“Prior to the pandemic, our nation’s frontline transportation workforce faced unique funding, safety, and workplace challenges. The public health and economic crises created by COVID-19 (the coronavirus) have only exacerbated these difficulties, while also shining a renewed light on the fundamental duties transportation workers perform.” Regan predicted Buttigieg “will play a key role in ensuring transportation workers have the resources they need to be safe at work and rebuild our country and economy once the pandemic is behind us.”

Progressives, who have started to chafe at Biden’s Cabinet picks of older people he knows—of whatever race, color, or sexual orientation—were expected to be pleased at the Buttigieg pick, too. If confirmed, he would be the first openly gay Cabinet member in U.S. history. LGBTQ groups, including the Human Rights Campaign, were delighted.

Buttigieg was one of Biden’s foes in the long Democratic primary campaign, but the two were on good terms. Buttigieg was the first openly gay person to seriously bid for a major-party presidential nomination, and his male spouse campaigned with him, too.

Progressives also cheered the Buttigieg pick for another reason: Who he wasn’t, specifically that Buttigieg got the Transportation post, and former Obama Administration Chief of Staff and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, thought to be the original front-runner for it, didn’t.

Emanuel antagonized Blacks and people of color by his Chicago school closures and especially by refusing to release film of Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke’s 2014 shooting of unarmed teenager LaQuan McDonald. Emanuel was mayor then. Van Dyke was later convicted of second-degree murder. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., a high-profile member of the party’s progressive wing, spoke out early against Emanuel.

The Buttigieg nomination still leaves major Cabinet posts to be filled—and an opening for OPEIU to push Levin for Labor Secretary. If nominated and confirmed, Levin, the former union organizer and son and successor of veteran pro-worker Rep. Sandy Levin, D-Mich., would be a 180-degree change from GOP Trump regime Labor Secretary Antonin Scalia. The Republican is a former management-side labor lawyer hostile to workers.

OPEIU President Richard Lanigan called Levin “a true advocate” for workers “who would be a valuable asset and trusted resource” for Biden. Lanigan particularly cited Levin’s strong support for OPEIU Local 40 in its conflicts over safe staffing and a new contract with the biggest hospital in Macomb, Mich., in Levin’s district.

“Levin’s experience as a union organizer, workforce policy expert, and human rights activist makes him uniquely suited to excel as Secretary of Labor in this time of public health emergency, economic crisis, racial inequality, and environmental injustice,” Lanigan explained.

“America’s working families have suffered unrelenting attacks over the past four years” under Trump. “For our nation and our economy to recover, it’s crucial we have a Labor Secretary that prioritizes the needs and interests of working people.”

“For decades, Levin has worked in the trenches of the labor movement, believing the single most important measure we could take to strengthen the U.S. economy is to bring collective bargaining coverage to millions of additional working people.”

Levin is also a labor administrator, Lanigan noted. After working on labor law issues early in his career, Levin ran Michigan’s workforce development system. “He served as Michigan’s chief workforce officer, created and ran the visionary No Worker Left Behind initiative and created the most aggressive green jobs program of its time.”

Other contenders for the top DOL job reportedly include Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, a member of the Laborers, Patrick Gaspard, a Black former top SEIU government relations staffer endorsed by the Amalgamated Transit Union, and California Labor Secretary Julie Su. Transport Workers President John Samuelsen supports both Walsh and Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ind-Vt., for the job, Bloomberg News reports.


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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