As Congressman Andy Levin emerges as perhaps the leading contender for the secretary of labor post in Joe Biden’s Cabinet, the Oakland County Democrat envisions making a job training program launched by former Gov. Jennifer Granholm a nationwide project in 2021.
Levin told Deadline Detroit that whether in Congress or as a Cabinet member, he hopes to see a national initiative based on the No Worker Left Behind initiative that he ran for the Granholm administration.
The NWLB, which offered up to $10,000 of free tuition for community college or trade school to jobless and low-wage workers, faced staunch opposition from Republican legislators in Lansing when it was introduced in 2007. But Levin believes the successes of the NWLB he witnessed can be duplicated from coast to coast with President-elect Biden’s support.
“When I ran the NWLB, we really put a lot of people in school and got them on a path to a new career working in an ‘in-demand’ job,” said Levin, 60, of Bloomfield Township. “We can do that on a national basis.”
The lawmaker in recent days received growing support from labor leaders who have urged the incoming president to choose him as his labor secretary. A former union organizer, Levin received endorsements from the UAW, Communications Workers of America, Utility Workers Union of America and the National Nurses United.
Name stands out
He insists he’s not campaigning for the job but “if offered it I would have to consider it. For me, it’s an honor just to have my name mentioned. Still, I’m truly focused on my job. I love being in Congress,” Levin said in a phone interview with Deadline Detroit from the second-story porch of the U.S. Capitol.
The Levin name has long been associated with a Michigan political dynasty. Andy Levin’s father is former congressman Sandy Levin, who served in the House for 36 years and ran for governor twice. His uncle, Carl Levin, served in the Senate from 1979 to 2015, including 30 years with Biden.
The younger Levin succeeded his father in Congress in the 2018 election and he represents much of the blue-collar areas of the Detroit suburbs -- the 9th District, territory that includes southeast Oakland County and nearly all of Macomb County south of Hall Road.
His political pedigree offers some advantages in landing the labor secretary post, and his Michigan roots in the industrial Midwest also are a plus. But his resume is his biggest asset.
The vice chair of the House Education and Labor Committee, Levin started out in the labor movement more than 30 years ago representing Michigan health care workers for the Service Employees International Union. He later worked as the assistant director of organizing for the AFL-CIO in Washington.
He served in the Clinton administration’s Labor Department and as legal counsel to the labor secretary in the Obama administration. When working for Granholm, he was the workforce development officer and then the head of the Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth. Before entering Congress, he formed a green energy company that refurbishes government and commercial buildings.
Dedicated to labor issues
His biggest backer may be Communications Workers of America President Chris Shelton, who told Crain’s Detroit Business that the president-elect will "want a secretary of labor who's pro-labor, and I don't know that he can find one that's more pro-labor than Andy Levin."
Several other names floated for the labor post include Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, a former union official and a longtime Biden friend.
As a congressman or Cabinet secretary, Levin believes he will mesh well with the president-elect, who he describes as “the working-class champion from Scranton.”
In addition to developing a worker retraining program like the NWLB Levin’s list of “lunch bucket issues” includes another round of financial assistance related to the Covid pandemic, heightened worker safety standards, a $15 minimum wage, a substantial increase in apprenticeships, and the installation of thousands of charging stations along U.S. highways for electric vehicles.
“Most of all, I want to restore workers’ freedom to form unions, engage in collective bargaining and earn a decent living,” he said. “I’ve devoted my whole life to this.”