Bernie Sanders Is Actively Running for Labor Secretary

Coy before the election, the Vermont Senator is now rallying support to join the Biden administration cabinet

Hamilton Nolan

Mandel Ngan/ AFP via Getty Images

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is actively reaching out to allies in a bid to build support for being picked as Secretary of Labor in the Biden administration, according to a Washington source who spoke to Sanders directly. 

Sanders’ interest in the position was reported by Politico in October, prior to Biden’s victory in the presidential election. At the time, Sanders said he was focused solely on the election ahead. Last week, Axios reported that Biden’s team was considering an informal ban on naming Democratic U.S. senators to the Cabinet if he wins,” which would preclude Sanders from being selected. 

If that is the case, Sanders himself is not letting it slow him down. This week, he has already begun making calls to allies in politics and the labor world, saying that he wants to make a run at the position of Labor Secretary. 

Phil Scott, the Republican governor of Vermont, said last month that he would appoint a replacement who would caucus with Democrats should Sanders leave the Senate to join the Biden administration, a move that means Democrats would not be at risk of losing a valuable Senate vote. Still, the conventional wisdom is that Biden’s ability to get very progressive cabinet secretaries like Sanders confirmed hinges on the Democrats taking control of the Senate — an uncertain proposition that would require them winning two runoff elections in Georgia. 

Other names floated recently as possibilities for Biden’s Labor Secretary include former California Labor commissioner Julie Su, AFL-CIO economist Bill Spriggs, and Michigan congressman Andy Levin — himself a former AFL-CIO official. Major unions have not come forward with formal endorsements, but all of the candidates have their backers inside organized labor. (Levin has already received the public support of Chris Shelton, the head of the Communications Workers of America.) Though Biden’s record is not as progressive on labor issues as Sanders, he ran as a vocal ally of unions, and his choice for Labor Secretary will be expected to have strong pro-union bona fides. 

The news that Sanders is still trying for the position is sure to energize progressives who believe that they are owed significant rewards for their support of Biden during the campaign. After Biden won the Democratic primary, he formed a task force with supporters of both him and Sanders, which issued a set of recommendations widely seen as a tool to pull Biden to the left. Having Bernie Sanders as Labor Secretary would give him an inside perch from which to launch efforts to put those recommendations into practice inside the administration. 

Today, Biden’s transition team announced the members of its Agency Review teams, which are tasked with preparing each federal agency for the new administration. Among the 23 members assigned to review the Department of Labor is Josh Orton, a senior advisor to Bernie Sanders. Orton declined to comment on Sanders’ pursuit of the agency’s top job. A spokesperson for Sanders’ office also declined to comment.

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Hamilton Nolan is a labor writer for In These Times. He has spent the past decade writing about labor and politics for Gawker, Splinter, The Guardian, and elsewhere. More of his work is on Substack.

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