Labor Secretary Walsh: Immigration policy puts U.S. ‘at a disadvantage’

U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh joins Yahoo Finance Live from the 2023 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, to discuss global challenges, inflation, the state of the economy, labor participation, immigration, and the outlook for 2023.

Video Transcript

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JULIE HYMAN: Welcome back to Yahoo Finance's live coverage of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Sozzi and I are pretty excited about this next one, and that's because we have never met this next guest in-person, but we talk to him every single month.

I'm talking about Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, who is here with us in the flesh here in Davos. It's so good to see you here in-person. It's so good to meet you in-person.

BRIAN SOZZI: Very scenic, very nice.

MARTY WALSH: Looks nice, it's beautiful. Beautiful background here.

JULIE HYMAN: Yeah, and this is your first time in Davos. So talk to us about what you're trying to accomplish here and why you're here.

MARTY WALSH: Anytime you get a chance to come to something like-- this is a little different. The World Economic Forum, but it's about sharing best practices, it's about networking, marketing, all that stuff that you do. And as a federal government, the conversations have been a lot of different conversations here, From workforce development, to job training, to scaling up. I've had a chance to talk to the minister from India, the minister from Italy, companies, things like that.

JULIE HYMAN: And are you finding that the challenges that they're having are similar to the challenges we have in the United States?

MARTY WALSH: Yeah, a lot of them are similar, a lot of them a little different. When you talk about inflation, obviously in the European countries it's in double digits, it's higher. And they're asking, what are you doing in the United States bringing inflation down? We're talking about-- In India they're talking about education and looking at reimagining K-12 education.

And bringing that out, bring that back to Secretary Cardona. And so it's really a lot of those conversations and talking to a lot of companies about-- companies that are working in the United States, what they need, and asking them what can we do better as a government. What can we do better as the Labor Department, Commerce Department, and working with my colleagues in the cabinet?

JULIE HYMAN: What are they telling you? Sorry--

MARTY WALSH: No, they really-- I think a lot of them are very happy with-- they're happy with the relationship between commerce and labor, and they've never seen that before. And myself and Secretary Raimondo and our teams work closely together. They're saying this is very different of a feel in government. It's usually commerce over here, labor over there. And having the two of us together working, thinking about the future of work and getting people skilled up it's really important.

BRIAN SOZZI: You are constantly traveling around visiting businesses in large part still creating jobs. Tesla, you name a lot of manufacturers, creating jobs in this country. The vibe here is that we are near recession, or some executives I've talked to, we are in a recession. Are you surprised by that tone?

MARTY WALSH: Until you track them, as we said off camera, until you talk to them one-on-one, and they're all like, oh, my business is great. I did have a meeting with one big corporation in this country, in America, today and I asked him the question. I said what do you feel? He goes-- he said, he didn't feel that we're headed towards a recession.

He thinks it's just this economy is very-- it's a lot of-- there's a lot of buzz around it because of the stock market, because of labor participation, because of inflation, and there's a lot of buzz. But he thinks that we're still going to continue into a strong 2023. Just from a business, not from--

JULIE HYMAN: Right. One of the things that we've talked to consistently about is immigration in the US and the importance of getting foreign workers into the United States. Have you been having conversations about that with some of the foreign leaders, for example, who are here? And what's their view on what should be maybe the free flow of labor across the border?

MARTY WALSH: It came up today in a conversation. And when you think about-- when you think about immigration and you think about other countries, in a lot of ways the United States, we're at a disadvantage, because other countries have ways to get import immigrant workers into their countries for big tech jobs, for working in restaurants, and we don't have that pathway, at least a big enough of that pathway.

And you know, I think that-- and I've said this on your show before, I think the biggest threat, one of the biggest threats to our economy is not inflation. It's-- or wage growth, it's lack of workers. And immigration reform is a key to that. And hopefully the Congress, the Senate, and the House can figure that out and do something on this bill.

BRIAN SOZZI: Have you been dismayed a bit by these big layoff announcements from big cap tech companies? They're huge. These are sizable layoff announcements. Amazon, you name it here.

MARTY WALSH: Yeah, certainly you don't want to see layoffs. And what I'm monitoring there is to see if these are short-term or long-term, and what's going to happen there. A lot of the folks who get laid off, they're going to find jobs. I mean, one thing I've talked to companies too, they're actually, I wouldn't say they're excited, but they're pleased that these giants are laying people off, because a lot of other companies are looking for tech support. And they can't get them because they've just taken every single tech worker to work in these big companies. So companies are going--

BRIAN SOZZI: Do you think it's short-term? I'm waiting to see, I'm watching it, monitoring it, obviously. You want to make sure that all industries are moving forward. And that's also I think for me it's a sign, you look at recession. You say, OK, what sectors are slowing down? If we had a slowdown in 10 different of the United States of America, then I'd have some concern.

JULIE HYMAN: Just to circle back a little bit to immigration for a second, because it's not just foreign leaders who are here. You come all the way here from Washington to get away from Congress and some of the members of Congress are here too.

MARTY WALSH: I saw them last night.

JULIE HYMAN: And I think some of them are the folks who are involved in some of the immigration negotiations. And I just wonder how often you're talking to them on that front and whether there's any movement?

MARTY WALSH: I think, certainly some of the senators that are here, that are working on the issue moving forward. The House passed the bill last year, an immigration bill that passed the House, that didn't pass the Senate. I think that as long as we can get a bipartisan group of folks together, I think that that's going to be key moving forward when it comes to immigration.

I think a lot of people think of business people that are watching this show right now, are thinking immigration to fill jobs that are needed that they may not have workers for. The average American is thinking immigration, they see a picture of the Southern border. And I think they're very-- two very issues.

We have work to do. There's no question about it on the Southern border. The President was there the other day and did a walk through and toured the Southern border to see how do we fix that issue. And that issue was in Trump's administration, it was in the Obama administration, it was in the Bush administration, as far back as we can remember.

But I think we have to separate the issues, deal with the Southern border, but really think about our economy, and immigration, and how do we pass a bill where people that come to the United States of America, they educated. When they graduate, if they don't get a visa, they get thrown-- they don't get thrown out, but they have to go back home.

We're losing that. I mean, you think about the ability for us to keep some of that brainpower, if you will, in the United States working in the country, it's important. I come from Boston, I'm the mayor of Boston. We have 28 college universities inside the city of Boston.

Many tech companies in Boston would love to be able to hire, if they can't hire enough students, to get some of the foreign students to come and work for those companies. And that's important for our ecosystem. And people might say, well, we don't need them. No, we do. We have more jobs than people. So we need the people.

BRIAN SOZZI: Mr. Secretary, it sounds like you still have a lot of work left to be done in this administration. Do you want to serve in the administration, assuming that President Biden runs again and he is re-elected?

MARTY WALSH: That's up to President Biden.

[LAUGHS]

That's up to President Biden, but there is a lot of work to do. And when I'm done here tomorrow, I'm going to Austria, and I'm going to be touring some companies about their apprenticeship programs. And really think about how those programs work in creating pathways. So we still have a lot of work to do in this administration.

BRIAN SOZZI: You're not going anywhere?

MARTY WALSH: We're not going too far ahead. We're not looking too far ahead right now. We're taking this a day at a time.

JULIE HYMAN: Marty Walsh, again, great to see you in-person. Great to talk to you in-person.

BRIAN SOZZI: No Dunkin' Donuts here, I apologize.

MARTY WALSH: Yeah, there's no Dunkin' Donuts. It's all right. The coffee here is pretty good.

JULIE HYMAN: The coffee is pretty good. I'm not complaining about the lack of Dunkin' Donuts. No, exactly. Labor Secretary, Marty Walsh, thanks so much.

MARTY WALSH: Thank you.

JULIE HYMAN: Appreciate it.