Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

The Enemy Of My Enemy Is My Friend?

With the departure of Hilda Solis from the Department of Labor (DOL), Seth Harris is–at least temporarily–at the helm as acting secretary. But not everyone is happy about that.

Harris is a law professor who served as Director of Labor & Employment Law Programs at New York University prior to this stint at the DOL. Prior to that, Harris served in the DOL during the Clinton administration as counsel to secretaries Robert Reich and Alexis Herman. As the deputy secretary this time around, Harris was the next logical person to fill in when the top job became available.

Will he stay there for long? That’s hard to say. While some other professors have encouraged the idea, Harris is getting pushback from the labor union at the DOL. The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) Local 12 says that it’s worried that Harris has taken the reins. According to an e-mail obtained by the Washington Examiner, the local’s president told members:

I believe it is fair to say the consensus was that most employees are concerned with the morale of the Department if Mr. Harris and Assistant Secretary Kerr remain in positions of power.

The union blames Harris for the low ranking that the department receives for Best Places to Work in Government (16 of 19).

Color us confused: Did the Obama administration allow an anti-union stalwart into the DOL? Did Harris dupe Solis into making him her “right-hand man”? Far from it.

A quick look at Harris’s publications tells you otherwise–take a look at “Don’t Mourn—Reorganize! An Introduction to the Next Wave Organizing Symposium” from 2005-2006 for a quick sample. And according to the Washington Post, Harris was an “ideological match for the Obama administration” when he was named to the position where he “join[ed] the pro-union Solis.”

Despite all of Harris’s positives (from organized labor’s perspective), this is life of a labor union that needs to prove its worth by rallying employees against management — even when management is the most pro-labor DOL in recent times

But if the hyperbolic AFGE opposes Harris, we may just warm up to him.

Categories: Center for Union FactsDOL