Labor Secretary Marty Walsh has been approached about running the NHL Players Association and is in consideration for the gig, in what could be the second major shakeup to the Biden administration in recent weeks.
A person familiar with the discussions said Walsh is a strong contender for the lead role atop the hockey players’ union but that no deal is yet done. The Department of Labor declined to comment.
NHLPA spokesperson Jonathan Weatherdon did not deny Walsh was under consideration in an email to POLITICO. “The Search Committee has been actively interviewing potential candidates and remains engaged in the process of selecting a new NHLPA Executive Director,” he said. “While the process is getting closer to completion, we are unable to comment further at this time.”
Should Walsh take the gig, he would be the second member of the president’s Cabinet to depart the Biden administration following Eric Lander, who resigned as Biden’s top science adviser in February 2022 after POLITICO first reported allegations that he bullied subordinates at the Office of Science and Technology Policy. Biden had elevated that post to Cabinet level, making Walsh the first traditional Cabinet official to potentially exit.
A Walsh departure would also possibly come amid other major administration staff shake ups. Chief of staff Ron Klain is set to hand off duties to Jeff Zients, marking the start of a new chapter for a White House still buoyed by better-than-expected midterm results for Democrats but now forced to tangle with a Republican controlled House.
Walsh’s name had been loosely discussed as a possible successor to Klain, though the labor secretary maintains his residence in Massachusetts and stays in a hotel when he’s in D.C.
The former Boston mayor has also been regularly talked about as a future candidate for office in Massachusetts, though his electoral options back home appear limited for the near future. He passed on running for the state’s open governor’s seat last year, unwilling to get involved in a primary against Democrats’ heir apparent, now-Gov. Maura Healey. And Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) have both pledged to seek reelection to their Senate seats in 2024 and 2026, respectively.
Going to the NHLPA would, instead, mark a return to organized labor for Walsh, who previously headed up the Building and Construction Trades Council in Boston before entering electoral politics and becoming the city’s mayor in 2014.
As Labor secretary Walsh frequently served as a key surrogate for the Biden administration, particularly as a go-between with unions and the business community. That included keeping tabs on the ongoing impasse between dockworkers and West Coast port operators as well as stepping into last year’s Major League Baseball lockout.
Biden tapped Walsh to lead DOL in part due to his ties to the labor movement, as well as their personal bond: in public appearances Biden often ribs Walsh for his unvarnished Boston accent.
The White House credited Walsh for his work overseeing negotiations last year that threatened to halt the nation’s freight rail system. However, several of the unions involved in those discussions later rejected their tentative agreements, leading Biden in December to seek Congress’ help and impose contract terms on the industry to keep the system online.
In his first months as secretary, Walsh also visited striking Kellogg’s workers on a picket line in Pennsylvania, drawing howls from Republicans that it was an inappropriate use of his office.
The Labor Department’s inspector general looked into the Kellogg’s visit and some of Walsh’s other interactions with unions and did not find ethical violations, though House Education and Workforce Chair Virginia Foxx has vowed to continue probing the matter.
Apart from his record on labor disputes, Walsh also oversaw a number of regulatory changes at DOL aimed at unwinding Trump-era policies.
That includes a just-finalized rule allowing retirement planners greater flexibility to factor ESG-metrics in their investment decisions, overseeing the Biden administration’s attempt to impose a vaccination-or-test mandate — much of which was blocked by the Supreme Court — and other Covid-era measures.
Close associates of Walsh appeared to be in the dark about the NHLPA talks as word spread Wednesday afternoon. But at least one wasn’t surprised by the potential development, given his history with labor relations and his love of hockey.
Walsh is a lifelong Boston Bruins fan. But he also has a darker history tied to the sport. Walsh, a recovering alcoholic, has spoken openly of being thrown out of a Bruins game in the 1990s for being too drunk, part of a series of events that led him to seek help for his addiction.
If Walsh did take the players’ association gig, the former Boston mayor would follow his close friend, former Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker into the sports-executive world. Baker takes over as president of the NCAA in March.
Eleanor Mueller and Sam Stein contributed reporting.