Overseeing the DOL

An expert offers eight strong possibilities for the next Secretary of Labor under a Democratic or Republican administration.

Monday, September 1, 2008
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Whether we have a President Barack Obama or a President John McCain, the new administration will usher in important changes in the field of labor and employment relations. Central to the agenda for the new president will be the selection of the next Secretary of Labor.


At the request of, Samuel Estreicher, Dwight D. Opperman Professor of Law and director of the Center for Labor and Employment Law at New York University, agreed to speculate on the potential short lists for each of the two major parties.

The following individuals are likely to be high on any such list.

Possible Obama Administration

1. David Bonior. Now that former Sen. John Edwards is an unlikely prospect, the former head of the Edwards campaign for the president, former congressman and House whip David Bonior emerges to the fore. Currently chair of the American Rights of Work, a pro-union group, and on the labor studies faculty of Wayne State University, former Michigan Rep. Bonior led the Democratic opposition to the North American Free Trade Agreement.

2. Hon. Wilma Liebman. A member of the National Labor Relations Board during both the Clinton and George W. Bush administration and a former union-side lawyer, Liebman is an articulate, thoughtful proponent for her views. But she is also able to reach across the aisle, as it were, to achieve durable solutions. Liebman was also a deputy director of Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service in the early Clinton years.

3. Edward Montgomery. Currently the dean of the University of Maryland's College of Behavioral and Social Sciences, Montgomery is a distinguished economist who formerly served as deputy secretary and chief operating officer of the Department of Labor during the Clinton administration. During his period in government, he was the Labor Department's chief economist and its representative to President Clinton's National Economic Council. He was part of the negotiating teams for the Kyoto Treaty on climate change and international child-labor conventions. He is also co-chair of the 100-person advisory group on labor matters for Obama. 

4. Thomas A. Kochan. Kochan, the George Maverick Bunker Professor of Management and Co-director of the Institute for Work and Employment Research at the MIT Sloan School of Management, is a highly productive and well-regarded scholar in the field of labor relations and collective bargaining. A member of the Clinton administration's Dunlop Commission on the Future of Worker Management Relations, he is actively involved as a consultant to labor-management partnerships and is also taking a lead role in the group of labor experts advising Obama.

Possible McCain Administration

1. Peter Hurtgen. Hurtgen was the chair of the National Labor Relations Board during the Clinton administration and then served as director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service during the Bush administration. A former member of Morgan Lewis, he is presently head of labor relations for Stop & Shop. During his time with FMCS, he was involved in mediating the West Coast ports labor-management dispute of 2002 and the 141-day strike in 2004 of supermarket-chain workers in Southern California. 

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2. Marshall Babson. A former member of the National Labor Relations Board during the Reagan administration, Babson is a highly regarded management-side lawyer, now with Hughes Hubbard, who maintains strong positive relations with the labor-union community. Babson is a Democrat.

3. Edward E. Potter. Coca-Cola's director of Global Labor Relations and Workplace Accountability, Potter serves on the Application of Conventions Committee within the International Labor Organization and as spokesperson for the Employers' Group within the ILO structure. In addition, he heads the U.S. employer delegation to the ILO's annual conference that is coordinated through the United States Council for International Business, which is on the ILO's governing body. Potter played a lead role in ILO work on the child-labor convention and securing the 1998 Declaration of Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work

4. Jerry Hunter. A highly regard general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board from 1989 until 1993, Hunter is a management-side labor lawyer for Bryan Cave in St. Louis. Named by Human Resource Executive® magazine as one of the "50 most powerful employment lawyers," he is a former director of the Missouri Department of Labor and presently is a member of the Board of Trustees of the Missouri State Employees Retirement System.

Samuel Estreicher is a professor at New York University and director of its Center for Labor and Employment. He is also counsel in the labor and employment practice group of Jones Day in New York and serves as chief reporter for the Restatement Third of Employment Law.

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