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Labor Secretary Walsh: There is a ‘new energy’ for unionization across the U.S.

U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss the April jobs report, wages, inflation, and unionization efforts at Starbucks and Amazon.

Video Transcript

- We want to get back to those jobs numbers now and that 428,000 climb in jobs added to the US economy last month. Let's welcome in Marty Walsh, US Labor Secretary. Mr. Secretary, thank you so much for being here. As we've been talking about, broadly a strong report. So forgive me, I'm going to pick on one of the things that was not quite as strong, and that is the labor force participation rate at 62.2%.

As we saw people drop out of the workforce, our Brian Cheung was telling us earlier, most of the folks who dropped out, the majority of them were men. Do we know what exactly is going on there? And how are you all viewing this still-anemic participation rate?

MARTY WALSH: No, thank you. So the report was good. I'm very happy. Let me start with the positive.

The participation rate, certainly, it's the first time in over a year, I believe, that we saw a dip there. But we do have to take a deeper look into the numbers to see exactly what's happening. And I don't have a quick answer this morning for you, other than, you know, I think our work and the president's work on getting our economy back, we have 95% of the people that were out of work pre-pandemic or during the pandemic are back to work.

But what we want to do is look, take a more granular look at that number to see if there's regions in the country that that number is higher, and trying, quite honestly, to get to the bottom of it. I think part of it could be skilling up, people leaving jobs and not going back, finding other jobs for whatever reason. Maybe they don't have the ability, the skills, the training to do with those jobs. So I think there's a space for us here at the Department of Labor to jump into that area and make some real big gains. And overall participation rate, we want to-- I mean, I think it's really important for us to see those numbers get higher and more people participating in our workforce. Because there are many jobs open, and there's still a decent amount of people out of work.

- Secretary, to what extent do you believe that the participation in the labor force will also kind of subside some of the concerns around the supply chain, which we know is leading to some of the larger inflationary concerns?

MARTY WALSH: Well, I think, you know, when you think about supply chain, I mean, I was out in the Port of LA last week. I met with some of the port officials, and they were talking to me about the stresses on the port. They were telling me that there were 27 ships offshore waiting to come into the harbor. A month before that, there were 67 ships.

So we're seeing some of those supply chain issues ease a bit. There's still going to be a demand out there. Obviously, China shutting down most of its manufacturing is going to be concerning. It's concerning to me, because we have 100 ships, roughly, I think the last time I heard-- 100 ships in China waiting to be loaded up and be brought to the United States and other parts of the world.

So I do get concerned about that. I'm not concerned, necessarily, about workforce at the ports. But I do think that supply chain issues have definitely added to inflationary problems. And what we don't want to see-- we don't want to exacerbate that over the course of the spring and the fall, summer and the fall.

- Mr. Secretary, this week, we heard from billionaire Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, and he said he's going to be investing more in training and wages for those parts of the Starbucks workforce that are not part of the labor union. Now, as a champion of the labor movement, how does that make you feel?

MARTY WALSH: Well, I think he's gonna have to invest in all of his workforce. I don't think he can just invest in the people, the dozen shops that organize. That just doesn't seem like a good business model. And I think that by investing in employees, I commend them for that. I commend him for investing in their salaries, and I also would recommend that the stores that organize to sit down and have a conversation with them.

I think that by ignoring them and not having a conversation, it doesn't solve any problems. And I think that there can be a real partnership here to help the Starbucks-- to help continue making Starbucks a very successful company.

- And we also know that you met with some of the Amazon labor organizers yesterday, along with the president. I'm curious, Mr. Secretary, what do you think has been driving this latest labor push at a time when we are seeing rising wages in the United States and we are seeing a robust job market?

MARTY WALSH: Well, we met with six individuals yesterday that organized six different companies. And really, when we talked to them at the table, most of them-- a couple of them were talking about the treatment of employees in their spaces, if you will. And there is definitely a drive here in this country, and an excitement, and a new energy, and people looking at organized labor as an opportunity for better working conditions, better salaries, better benefits.

We're seeing that all across America. I think the number is 57% of people are looking at organizing their workplace. And I think, quite honestly, there's a conversation going on.

Just like all the economy, we could talk about inflation. We could talk about supply chain. We could talk about wages. But we can also talk about workers and where they're at. And workers are looking to position themselves in a better future for themselves and their family by increasing their wages, and benefits, and work conditions.

- How much do you believe that the US is going the need to spend in order to upskill for the future of work and the positions that are going to be opening up in the future?

MARTY WALSH: Well, I think we have to make real investment in job training and workforce development. I'll give you an example. I was in Oklahoma the other day. I was at Tinker Air Force Base. It needs, I think, they told me 3,000 electrical engineers to be able to handle the work that's right there in front of them.

About 1,500 of those electrical engineers come from the schools in the surrounding areas. And I think when you think of tech companies and biotech companies in manufacturing and advanced manufacturing, we need to do a better job as a nation educating our young people and creating opportunities and pathways into those jobs. And I think that for every dollar spent in job training, workforce development, it's a really smart dollar to spend.

I saw it when I was Mayor of Boston. I saw it when I was in the legislature in Massachusetts. And I certainly see it as the Secretary of Labor. There's lots of opportunities for us to help people upskill their ability-- or not upskill them, but give them the education they need for good paying jobs in this country that are open right now.

- Mr. Secretary, we hear you are going to be a grandfather this summer. Our congratulations.

MARTY WALSH: Yeah, thank you. Very excited.

- All right, we'll talk to you soon. US Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, we'll talk to you. Talk to you soon.