What Does the U.S. Secretary of Labor Do?

What Is the U.S. Secretary of Labor?

The United States Department of Labor is part of the executive branch of the U.S. federal government. It is one of several executive cabinet departments under the leadership of the president of the United States.

Key Takeaways

  • The U.S. secretary of labor position is controlled by the U.S. president and is part of the president’s executive cabinet of leaders.
  • The U.S. secretary of labor oversees all activities of the Department of Labor.
  • The U.S. secretary of labor is a Level I position in the Executive Schedule and earns the salary prescribed for that level ($221,400 as of 2021)
  • The current secretary of labor is Marty Walsh, former mayor of Boston.

Understanding the Secretary of Labor

The secretary of labor and other cabinet department leaders collectively form the president’s advisory cabinet. The Department of Labor and its leader, the secretary of labor, are responsible for issues that arise concerning U.S. federal standards for:

  • Wages and hours worked
  • Occupational safety
  • Re-employment services
  • Unemployment insurance benefits
  • Economic statistics within the labor market
  • Work-related rights and benefits
  • Conditions in the workplace

The purpose of the Department of Labor is also to uphold, endorse, and advance the well-being of U.S. citizens by implementing regulations and directives that impact wage earners, citizens seeking employment, and retirees. The Department of Labor is authorized to enforce and administer more than 180 federal laws and thousands of federal regulations, affecting at least 125 million wage earners and 10 million employers. The department is also responsible for lobbying for new U.S. federal labor legislation to be passed by Congress.

Within its operating capacity, the Department of Labor includes several agencies and departments that fulfill its goals. Some of its most noteworthy departments include:

  • Bureau of International Labor Affairs (ILAB)
  • Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)
  • Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
  • Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC)

The Department of Labor can also communicate with state labor departments. Across the United States, each state has its own Department of Labor and department leaders, along with its own state labor laws.

Duties of the Secretary of Labor

The Office of the Secretary of Labor is one of the many departments within the U.S. Department of Labor. The Office of the Secretary and the Office of the Deputy Secretary collectively lead and oversee all Department of Labor activities. The current secretary of labor is Marty Walsh, former mayor of Boston.

As the head of the Department of Labor, the secretary of labor is charged with the following:

  • Overseeing and managing the functions of the Department of Labor collectively with regard to laws affecting the workplace, unions, and issues pertaining to business-to-employee relationships
  • Enforcing current laws
  • Making recommendations for new laws
  • Enforcing safety standards for the workplace
  • Facilitating the analyzing and recording of job statistics
  • Overseeing the dispensing of unemployment compensation benefits
  • Testifying to the U.S. Congress on matters having to do with employment and labor
  • Generating legislation and presenting it to Congress through the president

Frequently Asked Questions

How Does a Person Become Secretary of Labor?

As a U.S. cabinet department, the leader of the Department of Labor is nominated by the president of the United States. A majority vote by the U.S. Senate must confirm the nomination. Once sworn in, the secretary of labor reports directly to the president of the United States. As a cabinet leader, the secretary of labor can be discharged at any time by the U.S. president.

What Experience Does the Secretary Need?

The president can choose nominees for secretary of labor with any type of experience. There is no required background. As such, a nominated individual may have a background in law, economics, education, business, the military, or previous government service. In general, the pool of nominees is composed of seasoned professional and political bureaucrats with various backgrounds.

However, there is at least one restriction. To prevent any sitting members of Congress from serving in the executive cabinet, there is a clause in the U.S. Constitution called the Ineligibility Clause. It says that no person may be a cabinet member while serving in Congress. This is part of the separation of powers enshrined in the Constitution.

How Much Does the Secretary of Labor Make?

According to the federal website FederalPay.org, the U.S. secretary of labor is a Level I position in the Executive Schedule. The secretary earns the salary prescribed for that level, which was $221,400 as of 2021.

How Long Does a Secretary Stay in Office?

The secretary of labor role has no fixed-year term. Traditionally, the secretary of labor resigns or is replaced when a new president is elected and takes office. The president appoints the labor secretary and can replace that person at any time, as is the case for all executive cabinet leaders.

The purpose of the position of labor secretary is to improve the quality of life for citizens working in the United States. However, the secretary has great leeway in determining what would improve the quality of life for citizens and may work closely with the president in interpreting the goals of the Office of the Secretary of Labor.

The secretary may work for or against healthcare benefits in the workplace, a minimum wage, and overtime pay. In addition, the secretary weighs in on conflicts regarding federal labor regulations and interpretations that affect all types of businesses.

Article Sources
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  1. FederalPay.org. “Executive & Senior Level Pay Tables | 2021.”

  2. National Employment Law Project. “On the Nomination of Andrew Puzder for U.S. Secretary of Labor.”