By Jon Keller

BOSTON (CBS) – Secretary of Labor may not be the highest-profile cabinet position. But if Boston Mayor Marty Walsh wins Senate confirmation after his nomination hearing Thursday, he’ll face an inbox of issues as challenging in their own way as any facing the Secretary of State or Attorney General.

Atop the stack, the issue of classifying so-called gig workers, like Uber or DoorDash drivers, a fast-growing labor category, as “employees,” thus qualifying them under the law enhanced benefits and making it much easier for them to unionize. It’s been called the biggest opportunity for private-sector union growth in a generation or more, and President Biden vowed during the campaign to make it happen.

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That will put heavy pressure on Walsh to force the issue by applying the new policy to federal contractors under his control. But the politics are dicey – Democrats are divided on the issue, and a 2019 California law imposing reclassification was later repealed by a statewide ballot initiative after well-heeled gig companies spent lavishly to overturn it.

Walsh will also be pressed to fulfill Biden’s promise of a national $15 an hour minimum wage by imposing it on companies that do business with the federal government, another move sure to draw pushback, especially from sectors struggling to emerge from the pandemic recession.

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And the pandemic has also inflamed longstanding disputes over sick pay, paid leave, and workplace safety. Walsh has struggled to deal with Boston teacher union concerns about returning to school. Now he’ll have to face the issue on a national scale, on behalf of a president who was endorsed by leading teacher unions.

The booming Boston economy of the Walsh years muted the fear that he would promote a union agenda at the expense of economic growth. But as the first union member in nearly half a century to become labor secretary, the heat will be on to deliver for organized labor’s pent-up priorities.

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You can watch Walsh’s confirmation hearing live Thursday at 10 a.m. on CBSN Boston.

Jon Keller