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The School of Indistrial and Labor Relations is the alma matter of Seth Harris '83, the most recent Cornellian addition to the Biden Policy team.

March 12, 2021

From Cornell to Washington: Alumnus Chosen as Top Labor Adviser

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Seth Harris ’83 is set to join the ranks of the Biden administration, after serving on the Biden-Harris transition team alongside 19 other Cornellians. 

The White House announced March 5 that Harris will join President Biden’s policy staff as part of the National Economic Council, serving as deputy assistant to the president for labor and economy. Having previously worked under the Clinton and Obama administrations, Harris will  coordinate labor issues that involve the White House, according to Bloomberg Law.

“Harris has had a distinguished career in academia and public service. He will play a vital part in the new administration’s labor policymaking and relations with unions,” School of Industrial and Labor Relations Dean Alexander Colvin Ph.D. ’99 said in a University press release.

Harris graduated from ILR and has since pursued a career in labor policy and academia. Three years after graduating from New York University Law School in 1990, Harris worked in the U.S. Department of Labor as the counselor to the secretary of labor for six years under the Clinton administration. 

Following that government role, Harris took a post as a professor and director of labor and employment law programs at New York Law School for eight years. Afterward, he jumped back into the public service sector by joining the Obama-Biden Transition Team as the team leader for labor, education and transportation.

Shortly after, Harris served as the deputy secretary and acting secretary of labor under President Obama’s appointment for five years. Harris established a reputation of increasing workplace safety, fighting wage theft and improving the financial performance of the department of labor.

After serving in the Obama administration’s Department of Labor, Harris filled a number of advisory and board of director positions at various education, labor, financial and consulting organizations. In 2015 while working at the corporate law firm Dentons, Harris also co-wrote a paper, where he expressed support for companies like Uber and Lyft allowing non-discrimination protections for workers, but not minimum wage protection. 

This would form California’s controversial Proposition 22, exempting gig companies from classifying workers as employees excluding them from basic wages and protections.

However, throughout his career, his Cornell roots remained strong, as Harris returned in 2014 as a professor and distinguished scholar of the ILR School, when he collaborated with faculty in ILR’s Department of Labor Relations, Law and History to teach courses in labor law and policy. 

Most recently, Harris ran a law and policy firm that represents clients on political and corporate strategy, and labor and employment issues. Meanwhile, he was a visiting professor at the Cornell Institute for Public Affairs, teaching a course on leadership in public organizations.

“[I will be] seeking ways to fulfill the President’s and Vice-President’s commitments to rebuild the middle class, expand union organizing and collective bargaining, and improve the lives of workers and their families,” Harris said in a LinkedIn announcement of his newest position.