WASHINGTON (REUTERS) – US President-elect Joe Biden will nominate Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo as his Commerce Department secretary and former union official and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh as Labour secretary, his transition team said late on Thursday (Jan 7).
The two Democrats will head sprawling agencies that will shape Mr Biden’s agenda on climate change, technology, investment, the minimum wage and other workforce rules and policies.
Together with other top officials, they will “usher in a new wave of worker power, help struggling small businesses recover and re-open, and put Americans back to work by creating millions of good-paying union jobs,” the transition team said.
Mr Biden and Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris will announce the nominations in Wilmington on Friday.
They also will nominate Ms Isabel Guzman, a California state economic development official and small business advocate, to lead the Small Business Administration (SBA), and Mr Don Graves, a former KeyBank executive and economic adviser to Mr Biden when he was vice-president, as deputy commerce secretary.
The SBA has played a key role in distributing hundreds of billions of dollars in coronavirus aid to small businesses over the past year.
As Rhode Island’s first woman governor, Ms Raimondo has pushed for a US$15 (S$19.90) an hour minimum wage in her state, but told the Providence Journal in a recent interview that she was reluctant to raise taxes on big earners to cover a state budget deficit.
Ms Raimondo, 49, also said in the interview she would push for state-operated stores to sell marijuana.
A Harvard- and Yale-educated lawyer with a background in venture capital, Ms Raimondo has launched successful workforce training programmes in Rhode Island, which a source familiar with her selection said was in line with Mr Biden’s plans to boost education and worker training for 21st-century skills.
Ms Christine Bliss, president of the Coalition of Services Industries, welcomed Mr Biden’s selection of a woman for the key economic role, adding Ms Raimondo’s experience as a governor and her business acumen would serve her well.
The Commerce Department is the official face of American business overseas but also runs such key federal departments as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the US Patent and Trademark Office, and the US Census Bureau.
The department has also played a major role in Republican President Donald Trump’s “America First” trade agenda, imposing national security tariffs on steel and aluminum and banning numerous Chinese companies from acquiring US technology, including telecommunications equipment giant Huawei.
Mr Walsh, 53, now serving a second four-year term as mayor of Boston, has focused on rebuilding the middle class while advocating for workers in his hometown, a source familiar with his choice said, adding that Mr Walsh backed both a US$15 minimum wage and paid family leave.
Mr Walsh, who served from 1997 to 2014 in the Massachusetts House of Representatives, was elected Boston mayor in 2013. He is a past president of the Labourers’ Union Local 223, which he joined at 21, and later headed the Boston Metropolitan District Building Trades Council.
Union leaders applauded his choice.
“Walsh knows that collective bargaining is essential to building back better by combating inequality, beating Covid-19 and expanding opportunities for immigrants, women and people of color,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in a statement. “He will have the ear of the White House, the Cabinet and Congress as we work to increase union density and create a stronger, fairer America.”
Mr Marc Perrone, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, the largest US private sector union, gave Mr Walsh and Mr Biden both good marks for standing with UFCW grocery workers during a strike in Boston in 2019.
“With Marty Walsh serving as Labour Secretary, American workers will know they have a champion who will hold corporations accountable and support the good-paying union jobs our country needs,” he said.
Ms Guzman currently heads California’s Office of the Small Business Advocate and helped coordinate the state’s economic recovery response amid the Covid-19 crisis.
A former senior SBA official during the Obama administration and small business entrepreneur, Ms Guzman learned about entrepreneurship while working in her father’s chain of veterinary hospitals.
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