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Labor Secretary Walsh: ‘Companies are still looking for people’

U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss the September jobs report, the balance of power between employers and employees, quiet quitting, labor union negotiations, and what pardoning those with marijuana offenses means for workers' career prospects.

Video Transcript

- Welcome back. Job growth beating estimates by 8,000 in September, as high rates and elevated costs permeated the US economy. But how will a stronger than expected labor report guide the Fed? All of this percolating through the markets today. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh is joining us now from Washington, DC.

Mr. Secretary, great to see you, as always. And so this number showing growth today in places like labor and hospitality. I'm always curious what you're hearing in your conversations with corporate leaders around the country, where they're having still trouble because, on the other hand, we're also seeing some industries cut back. Give us a little color as to what you're hearing.

MARTY WALSH: Yeah. It really depends on where we are. I think one of the areas when you think about cybersecurity and the tech space, that's where a lot of companies are still growing. Some have cut back. So we talk about how do we create programs so we can get people skilled up, working with community colleges in particular, working with colleges in the country and really thinking about what employers are talking about now is not about the job market of right now, but they're talking about participation and anticipated growth in their companies and making sure they have the skilled workforce to be able to keep up with that growth.

- Mr. Secretary, is it a little surprising that we're still seeing some strong job growth like this and upward revisions to prior months at the same time the Federal Reserve is really trying to slow the economy down?

MARTY WALSH: Well, when you see the areas that we saw growth in this month-- and we saw the hospital industry and medical fully recovered from pre-pandemic, you know, you're seeing that a lot of people are hiring in those hospitals because there's a lot of elective procedures that were put off. So they're hiring more people in hospitals. We're seeing an increase in manufacturing. Certainly, more jobs than pre-pandemic in manufacturing. And I think a lot of that has to do with what happened during the pandemic with supply chain. We're seeing more and more companies want to create more and build more here in the United States.

We're seeing the president really focusing on that as well, doing more in the United States. We're seeing in this particular month, we didn't see-- we saw, actually, a decrease in governments hiring around education. So that's one number that was low. But companies are still looking for people. You're still hearing it every day. I mean, as you mentioned earlier, I think it might have been Julie saying it, some people are cutting back on their employees because they're anticipating what the future might bring. But a lot of companies are still hiring.

- And so with the cutback on employees yet hiring also kind of decreasing or decelerating, if you will, what does that spell out for the people who during the Great Resignation had kind put in that two weeks notice and said, I've got another offer somewhere else. I've got a greater offer on the table. Is this still a job hopper's market? Or from your perspective, is it something where that is decelerating so much to the point where it's very much shifting and employees should be considering exactly where they make those moves?

MARTY WALSH: No, I still think it's a good market for employees to look in for looking for better opportunities. But I think what's happening is employers are realizing now they have to do a little more to keep their employees. Employers don't want to hire somebody and then after six months lose them to another place for a higher salary or better benefits. So I think employers are starting to-- when I go around talking to companies, they're really looking into hybrid work. How does that work? They're looking at opportunities, childcare, and other things to encourage people to come into to their companies. And I think companies are adapting to the change in the environment around workers today.

- And some of the folks we're talking to are saying some of these changes are going to be long standing, right, that we're seeing a more profound shift in the workforce because of increased flexibility, of being able to work from home because sort of life decisions people made during the pandemic. Maybe some people taking early retirement, et cetera. How is the administration thinking about some of those longer-term changes and addressing some of those longer-term trends?

MARTY WALSH: Well, I think one of the biggest things the president did in the Build Back Better legislation that didn't go to the Senate-- child care, paid family leave, sick time medical leave, all of those issues are very important to families today. And I think a lot of companies-- some of them are getting there on their own. But child care is a very complicated issue. And I think that we as a country have to think about and rethink about the way that our child care system works because it's expensive.

And we're having a hard time retaining workers in that industry because we don't pay them enough to take care of our kids. So I think as we think about long term, that's going to be one investment on the federal level, but also on the private sector. So I think I think pre-pandemic, we didn't hear about the changes in companies. Companies would change the way they did their office space, open areas, things like that.

But I think because of the pandemic it's made us all really think about the future. And what we're doing here at the Department of Labor, we're working with companies. I don't think I have the right to tell a company how to operate their company. That's not my role. My role is to try and assist them and help with them and share best practices where I can and what other companies are doing.

- Mr. Secretary, last time we spoke to you about a month ago on jobs day you were still looking into analyzing the quiet quitting movement. Now a month later, how big a problem is this in the country?

MARTY WALSH: I mean, I haven't really heard about it from companies. I know that it's being reported in the press. I've talked to a lot of companies in the country. And I haven't heard about that. Certainly, that's a concern if it continues on because when people hire people, they expect them to do a day's work for a day's pay. And I think that that's something that we have to continue to encourage. And but when I talk-- as I've gone around the country this last month-- and I've done a lot of trips-- no company has approached me on this quiet quitting idea.

- And Secretary Walsh, finally, I want to ask you about the rail strike in which you intervened last month and helped avert that strike. That was sort of an 11th hour agreement. I know, it was sort of a marathon process of working through it with them. What are some of the lessons learned from that? For example, would you get involved earlier in the future to sort of not have a down to the wire situation?

MARTY WALSH: If I'm asked to get involved earlier, I would. Certainly, in the negotiation. I'm not involved at the table. But I certainly am talking to both sides to make sure that encouraging both sides, and they already are, so I don't have to encourage them, to stay at the table and get this contract done. In the rail strike, this was a two-year period that they weren't able to get an agreement where the president had to appoint an emergency board to come up with a PEB. They came up with the recommendations. And we built off of that.

But, certainly, I think when you get to that point, there's a breakdown. So I've offered to anybody who wants if they want me to get involved or get us involved. But I think mediation is important as well. If you have two sides that can't get to an agreement, my recommendation is try and bring a mediator in. It doesn't have to be me. But bring a mediator in just to keep the conversation moving forward.

- And labor secretary, just while we have you, we do know that President Biden issued a presidential proclamation pardoning federal convictions for simple marijuana possession offenses. These are people that have been barred in some cases from getting back into the workforce because of these convictions and offenses. Where will the Labor Department continue to do work at the state level even to ensure that there are opportunities for people to get occupations within the workforce?

MARTY WALSH: Yeah. We have to make sure what the president did yesterday is carried out. And to many of the people that are being pardoned by the president yesterday people of color, and particularly the African-American community. And this has been the challenge in our country for a long time, where people were convicted of a minor marijuana offense that had a record. And I commend the president for his actions yesterday. And the folks that are out there, we're going to work with them to make sure that they can get into good employment, that this is not an impediment to their ability to get into the middle class and get a good paying job.

- US Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, pleasure to have you on the show. And thanks, as always, for taking the time.