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As part of its campaign to put a four-year limit on George W. Bush’s tenure at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, the AFL-CIO has drawn up what might be called the “Outrage of the Month” list of attacks against working people by the Bush administration since taking office in January 2001.
The list begins with the three executive orders issued in February 2001 that ended labor-management partnerships in the federal sector of the economy; barred project labor agreements on federally-funded public works projects; and required federal contractors to post notices advising workers of their right not to join a union.
The timing of these orders, coming only days after Labor Secretary Elaine Chao’s first appearance before the 54-member AFL-CIO Executive Council, was a veiled warning of the bitter events that were to follow. In a statement that accompanied release of the list, the AFL-CIO said although it found the administration’s repeated siding with business interests “disappointing,” they did not consider them “surprising,” given the animus of an administration firmly committed to a “pro-business, anti-regulatory ideology and agenda.”
However, the statement added, “many of the initiatives go well beyond simply favoring business over workers and have specifically targeted unions, unionized employees and the processes of organizing and bargaining in an effort to undermine unions and their capability to represent workers.”
v Although the Bush administration’s attack is many faceted, the Outrage of the Month list begins with the federal budget for fiscal year 2004 that Bush submitted to Congress on Feb. 3. In it are cuts in funding for the Labor Department to levels 6.5 percent below spending for FY 2002. Worker protection and international labor programs are cut significantly while, at the same time, the department seeks an increase to pay for 75 additional full-time staff within the Office of Labor Management Standards and 20 more in the Office of Inspector General to monitor and investigate unions and what it called “labor racketeering.”
v The Labor Department is so sure the additional funding will be forthcoming that it has proposed extensive new financial reporting and disclosure requirements under the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act for national and local unions. (The reports, often referred to as LM-2 reports, are mandated by the Landrum Griffin Act of the 1950s.) These revisions are exceedingly complicated, requiring itemized listing of all expenses in excess of $2,500 with compliance costs for unions estimated at hundreds of millions of dollars annually. They also offer new opportunities for the department to find technical violations of the reporting requirements and, possibly violations that carry with them criminal charges.
v Never one to be bothered by the niceties of due process or the separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches of government, George W. Bush has signed a series of executive orders that include attacks on collective bargaining rights on government employees and workers in the airline industry. These are listed in the Outrage of the Month.
v But the most vicious attack was levied against members of the West Coast dockworkers, when, Bush directed the Department of Justice to seek a Taft-Hartley injunction to end the 11-day shutdown of the West Coast docks. The was the first time the Taft-Hartley Act had been invoked since 1978 and the first time ever that a president allowed an employer to lock out workers in an attempt to undermine a union and then reward the employer with a court-ordered governmental intervention. The president’s action, rationalized publicly as necessary to ward off economic damage, was simply the culmination of earlier threats by the administration to intervene in the negotiations between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Association.
v The Bush administration has regularly sought to undermine collective bargaining for airline employees and has sought to restructure employment relations in the industry to undermine union rights and benefits. It used brutal force when, in December 2001, it set up a Presidential Emergency Board that imposed a 60-day bar on a job action by 15,000 members of the Machinists Union at United Airlines. Earlier, in June 2001 it threatened 23,000 flight attendants at American Airlines with similar action, effectively undercutting that union’s negotiating power.
v The Bush administration has been particularly vindictive when it comes to union rights of federal employees. Barely a month ago it terminated the collective bargaining rights of more than 1,300 workers at the National Imagery and Mapping, invoking the 9/11 terrorist attacks as the reason for curtailing workers rights.
v The new year had barely begun when the administration issued a directive denying collective bargaining rights to the 60,000 newly federalized airline security screeners. And here again, as has become all too typical, the administration resorted to the war against terrorism to rationalize this denial of workplace rights, contending that collective bargaining is incompatible with national security.
v A year earlier, the White House issued an executive order revoking union representation for employees working in certain subdivisions of the Department of Justice. The broad order eliminated collective bargaining protections for all workers in the affected divisions, regardless of whether or not their work had anything to do with national security.
v Nor should we forget that Bush used the threat of a veto to force Congress to deny the protection of a union to more than 170,000 employees of the Department of Homeland Security.
The administration has used other ways to undermine the power and influence of the labor movement, among them in appointments to advisory boards of federal agencies dealing with issues such as occupational safety and health, international trade and ergonomics.
v Last December Bush reversed 30 years of practice when he closed the nomination process for the National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health and appointed three new members. Ever since the committee was established under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 197, nominations have been open to the public to insure representation by a wide range of groups – representation that has always included the AFL-CIO health and safety director. However, that changed and the AFL-CIO is no longer on the committee nor are four other former members, including representatives from the Steelworkers Union.
v That same month Bush nominated 32 persons to serve on the Advisory Committee for Trade Policy and Negotiations. Contrary to explicit requirements of the 1974 law creating the panel, President Bush did not include a single representative from labor, environmental or consumer groups among the nominees. Instead, he included major GOP campaign donors, free trade theologians and a few people with close ties to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick. Only after the AFL-CIO sued to enforce the law’s requirements did the administration appoint Teamster President James P. Hoffa to the committee.
v Now, for the first time in the 32-year history of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, a workplace safety advisory committee does not contain an equal number of union and management representatives. Two union safety staff members were appointed, compared with seven from management. Many of the corporations tapped to serve on the advisory board opposed creation of a federal ergonomic standard and were instrumental in the law’s repeal when Bush took control of the government.
One of the administration’s first acts after taking control was to secure Congressional repeal of the Department of Labor’s ergonomic standards. Nearly a year later, the White House announced a new ergonomics program based on industry-specific voluntary guidelines. The administration has now entered into or is developing ergonomics partnership agreements with employers, trade associations and professional groups representing a number of industries. Notwithstanding union’s unique role and specialized safety and health expertise, the Labor Department has not included unions in any of these partnerships.
* Then, to add insult to injury, the administration announced formation of a national advisory committee on Dec. 4, 2002. The committee was established to “study” causes and methods to prevent workplace ergonomic injuries that hurt some 1.8 million workers annually – and this after the question had been studied to death before President Clinton issued guidelines dealing with the issue in the waning days of his administration.
Nor does the list end there.
* In early June of this year, Bush issued an executive order stripping the national air traffic control system of its designation as an “inherently governmental” function. The effect of this action is to open the door to privatization, in this way threatening the representation and bargaining rights of 15,000 controllers.
* In February 2002, the administration tried to force Amtrak to agree to contracting out of jobs and modifying its collective bargaining agreements as a condition federal financial assistance. Although that effort failed, the administration will, beyond a doubt “revisit” the question.
* In April 2002 the Department of Labor began posting the LM-2 reports of unions on its website. These reports contain extensive information about union finances as well as salary information for employees of unions.
* In April 2001, the Labor Department rescinded strict reporting requirements imposed on union-busting consultants and attorneys by President Clinton’s Labor Department.
* In March 2001, during debate on campaign finance reform, Bush called for a “paycheck deception” provision to restrict legislative and political activity by unions. He has repeated that demand on many occasions and Congress has so far refused to go along.
* Despite the fact that it had no authority in the matter, Bush’s Office of Management and Budget blocked implementation of a collective bargaining agreement between the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees and the Federal Aviation Administration despite the fact that Rodney Slater, former FAA secretary, had approved the agreement.
As Elaine Chao’s meeting with the AFL-CIO Executive Council on Feb. 26 showed, the Outrage of the Month list is clearly a work-in-progress.
The author can be reached at email@example.com
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Labor Secretary to AFL-CIO: Was it arrogance or intimidation? Roberta Wood
HOLLYWOOD, Fla. – Was it arrogance or intimidation? As the Bush administration’s Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao packed her briefcase for her courtesy appearance at the annual AFL-CIO Executive Council, here, Feb. 26, it wasn’t Department of Labor (DOL) coffee mugs or ballpoint pens she tucked inside. And it certainly wasn’t certificates of appreciation for the elected leaders of 13 million American workers.
Labor leaders wanted to register with Chao their strong objections to the new, punitive, financial reporting requirements being implemented by the DOL. When Machinist Union president Tom Buffenbarger protested the impossibly complex requirements, he was the first to see what Chao came packing. Sec. Chao whipped out a detailed dossier on every case of alleged malfeasance her investigators could find against the 750,000-member Machinists union. She didn’t mention that most of the cases had been exposed and were being dealt with by the union itself. However, Chao did make it clear that she had a similar file waiting in the bag for every union in the room.
AFL-CIO president John Sweeney characterized the session with Chao as “unbelievable.” He said, “She was angry at points, insulting at points … In all my years, I never saw a Secretary of Labor so anti-labor.”
Bruce Raynor, president of the Union of Needletrades, Industrial, and Textile Employees (UNITE!) said, “It seemed like a clear attempt at intimidation.”
Teachers union President, Sandra Feldman, said, “We’re facing rising health care costs, layoffs, companies going bankrupt, people losing retiree benefits … it’s upsetting that … this huge book … was the main thing she came here with.”
Recent financial practice scandals have involved giant corporations like Enron, not the AFL-CIO. In fact, the labor federation went to court to fight for the Enron workers who lost jobs and pensions. Union leaders noted, however, that the administration displays little enthusiasm for corporate regulation while saddling the unions, at every level from the smallest local on up, with a bookkeeping nightmare that will eat up their resources.
One observer from the Sheet Metal Workers remarked that the Bush administration’s attitude was harkening back to the McCarthy attitudes of 1951. “Our union supports many moderate Republicans and they have played an important role in looking out for our members,” said Vincent Panvini, Director of Governmental Affairs for the SMWIA. “But how can we work with this kind of treatment?”
Whether it’s arrogance or intimidation, intended or not, this administration’s attack dog tactics may be having the unintended effect of building labor’s unity. “It’s strengthening our resolve,” said Sweeney.
And maybe Panvini, who certainly knows his sheet metal, was thinking of the 800-degree treatment given to steel to strengthen it for heavy-duty service when he described a change he sees in the labor movement. “Galvanizing,” Panvini said with a smile, “George Bush is galvanizing the labor movement.”
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