u.s. labor department building

The U.S. Labor Department, which now includes former Rhode Island Senator Gayle Goldin as senior advisor of the Women’s Bureau, is one of several federal agencies to benefit from the experience of high-profile state lawmakers. (Ting Shen/Xinhua via Getty Images)

Pipeline to the Biden Administration: A Chat With a Former RI State Senator

By Eric Peterson | Nov. 29, 2021 | State Legislatures News | Print

Since moving into the White House, the Biden administration has tapped numerous high-profile state legislators to fill posts from Washington, D.C., to the Dominican Republic.

Among them:

  • Erek Barron was sworn in as the first Black U.S. attorney for Maryland after representing the 24th District in the state House of Delegates from 2015 to 2021. He co-authored bipartisan legislation aiming to reduce corrections spending and reinvest the savings in programs to reduce recidivism.
  • Maria Robinson, an expert in clean energy who was elected to represent the 6th Middlesex District in the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 2019, is the assistant secretary of energy for electricity delivery and energy reliability at the U.S. Department of Energy.
  • Calvin Smyre, announced as Joe Biden’s pick for the ambassadorship of the Dominican Republic, was the longest-serving member of the Georgia Legislature as of September 2021. Smyre won his first election to represent the 135th District of the Georgia House in 1974.
  • Gayle Goldin is now senior advisor at the Women’s Bureau in the U.S. Department of Labor, after serving District 3 in the Rhode Island Senate from 2013 to 2021.

NCSL recently caught up with Goldin to talk about her new role.

What are the key factors that made you want to be a part of the Department of Labor?

In 2001, I had two experiences that changed my life: I broke my back and became a mom. Both showed me the gaps we have in our work-based public policies, so I started organizing. Eventually, I ran for office, championing paid family leave. In my first year in the Rhode Island Senate, we passed paid family leave.

Many of the policies I fought for on the state level, and on the national level as a policy strategist, are part of the Women’ Bureau’s mission. The Women’s Bureau is at the center of the action when it comes to improving the lives of working conditions for women. It is an honor to join the talented team of people at the Women’s Bureau.

What are your plans at the Women’s Bureau at the Department of Labor?

The Women’s Bureau, which was founded in 1920, is the only federal agency mandated by Congress to work exclusively on issues that affect women in the workplace and represent the needs of wage-earning women in the public policy process. The Women’s Bureau is a source of data, research and grants.

We are also a convener. In the Obama administration, I worked closely with the Women’s Bureau to highlight paid leave and pay equity. We are currently working on events in regional offices and nationally that will bring people together to hear about the experiences of working women, with a particular focus on the care economy, pay equity and nontraditional career paths. As a former senator, I also know how important federal funding can be. The president’s plan includes historic investments in child care and paid leave. Outreach and education about these investments will be critical to equitable implementation, and I look forward to being a part of that work.

Are there any key initiatives, goals or focus areas you’d like to highlight at the Women’s Bureau?

The Biden-Harris administration is a historic one, in a historic moment. We are at a point in our nation when women have been pushed to the brink, and the nation’s ongoing lack of investment in paid leave, child and elder care can no longer be ignored. We are seeing slower economic recovery for women, working parents who are struggling to meet caregiving responsibilities, and women working in the health and education sectors that are overburdened by COVID.

The Women’s Bureau has been a source of research and data since its inception, and that information helps shape policy recommendations for the Department of Labor and the administration. In the coming months, we will be releasing information on child care pricing and research on the impact of COVID on women’s labor force participation. By highlighting the data and conducting robust research on women in the workforce, we will provide opportunities for stakeholders to learn about promising practices to address inequity.

Eric Peterson is a Denver-based freelancer.

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