Posts Tagged ‘Hilda Solis’
Thursday, April 1st, 2010
A little more than a year after taking office, the Obama administration and Labor Secretary Hilda Solis have taken significant steps to repair the damage to workplace safety and health left behind after eight years of the Bush administration.
With Workers Memorial Day (April 28) approaching, this is a good time to look at the progress made since the “the new sheriff” hit town. (Click here for fact sheets, fliers, posters, stickers and other Workers Memorial Day materials.)
As Esther Kaplan writes in the Nation:
During the Bush years, the Department of Labor became a cautionary tale about what happens when foxes are asked to guard the henhouse.
For eight years under the Bush Administration, corporate officials and management representatives headed the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). Bush’s first MSHA head, David Lauriski, was chief safety officer at Emery Mining’s Wilberg, Utah, mine in 1984 when an explosion killed 27 coal miners. The blast, says Kaplan, “was later attributed to numerous violations at the mine.”
The owners, it turned out, had been trying for a one-day production record…Seventeen years after the disaster, Lauriski became George W. Bush’s first mine safety chief, a perch from which he halted a dozen new safety regulations initiated under [the] Clinton [administration], advocating instead a more “collaborative” approach with industry.
Today, MSHA is headed up by Joe Main who began work in the mines when he was 19, became a local union safety committeeman, a safety inspector in the Mine Workers (UMWA) Safety and Health Department and eventually is director.
At OSHA, Bush’s last administrator, Edwin Foulke, was former partner at the notorious anti-union law firm Jackson Lewis. He so strongly opposed workplace safety and health laws The New York Times labeled him “an antiregulatory ideologue.”
Contrast Foulke with David Michaels, Obama’s choice as OSHA administrator. Michaels is an occupational safety and health expert, co-founder of the New York Committee on Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH) and epidemiologist at George Washington University.
Under Bush, OSHA and MSHA emphasized voluntary compliance programs over strong enforcement of workplace safety and health regulations. When they issued penalties, the employers often negotiated down the fines, which were negligible to begin with.
Now, both OSHA and MSHA have stepped up enforcement, assessing large penalties against employers with serious, repeated and willful violations. In October, OSHA levied the largest fine in its history-$87 million against BP Products for failing to correct the safety problems that caused a 2005 explosion that killed 15 workers and injured another 170 people at a Texas City oil refinery.
OSHA also is strengthening its enforcement program to focus more on repeated violators and to develop corporate-wide approaches to enforcement. It’s launched a national investigation in the under reporting of injuries and employer practices that discourage workers from reporting job injuries.
During the eight-year run of the Bush administration, not only did OSHA and MSHA put the brakes on new safety and health rules laws in the pipeline when they took office, neither agency issued any new standard unless forced by the courts or Congress. OSHA is now moving forward with rules on silica, cranes and derricks, hazard communication, combustible dust and other workplace hazards.
The Bush administration presided over the repeal of the nation’s first ergonomics standard and made it so that OSHA’s hands tied to set a new ergonomics rule. But the agency now has proposed changes in the injury recordkeeping rule to reinstate a requirement, repealed by the Bush administration, for employers to identify musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) on the workplace injury log.
At MSHA, new rules to limit exposure to coal dust and silica and to address increases in lung disease among miners are top priorities. Main also told Kaplan that MSHA will identify the top risk factors that lead to mining deaths and injuries and help educate mining companies on how to eliminate them, but not as a substitute for enforcement.
We’ll provide assistance to the mine operators who do need it, .but never as a replacement to the enforcement tools. There was some confusion about that in recent years. I’m not confused about that.
Both safety agencies suffered drastic cuts in budget and personnel (especially in inspection and personnel) under the Bush administration. The Obama administration has restored those cuts and its FY 2011 budget includes some modest increases.
Employers’ rights appeared paramount in the Bush OSHA and MSHA. Today both agencies have established programs focusing on workers’ rights, including whistleblower and anti-discrimination protections and better worker access to fatality and injury.
The Obama administration also is backing congressional efforts to improve workplace safety and health laws, including the Protecting America’s Workers Act (H.R. 2067 and S. 1580), which toughens penalties, expands OSHA coverage to public-sector workers, strengthens anti-discrimination protections and expands workers’ rights.
It’s likely the same corporate and Republican forces that blocked improvements in workplace safety and health will fight this legislation and each and every new safety initiative.
So this Workers Memorial Day, along with honoring workers killed and injured on the job and demanding good, safe jobs with decent wages, health and retirement security and a voice on the job, workers will continue the fight for strong new safety and health protections.
*This post originally appeared in AFL-CIO blog on March 18, 2009. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log. I came to the AFL- CIO in 1989 and have written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety. When my collar was still blue, I carried union cards from the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers, American Flint Glass Workers and Teamsters for jobs in a chemical plant, a mining equipment manufacturing plant and a warehouse. I’ve also worked as roadie for a small-time country-rock band, sold my blood plasma and played an occasional game of poker to help pay the rent. You may have seen me at one of several hundred Grateful Dead shows. I was the one with longhair and the tie-dye. Still have the shirts, lost the hair.
Friday, January 8th, 2010
Big news out of the Labor Department today — they awarded $100 million in grants to programs training workers for the green jobs of the future:
Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis today announced nearly $100 million in green jobs training grants, as authorized by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Recovery Act). The grants will support job training programs to help dislocated workers and others, including veterans, women, African Americans and Latinos, find jobs in expanding green industries and related occupations. Approximately $28 million of the total funds will support projects in communities impacted by auto industry restructuring.
Through the Energy Training Partnership Grants being administered by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration, 25 projects ranging from approximately $1.4 to $5 million each will receive grants. These grants are built on strategic partnerships — requiring labor and business to work together.
The grants announced today are part of a $500 million program created by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 — a.k.a. “the stimulus.”
For details about the individual programs awarded grants, click on over to the Labor Department’s announcement page.
UPDATE (Jan. 7): It’s not really clear from the list of grantees that DOL posted on their site, so I want to point out that training programs led by CtW-affiliated unions are prominent among those that received grants yesterday. For example, New York’s Shortman Fund (which was awarded a $2.8 million grant) is operated by SEIU 32BJ; SEIU locals also participate in H-CAP Inc. (granted $4.6 million); and LIUNA is active in training programs in Virginia, Rhode Island, Michigan, and Montana that were collectively awarded almost $17 million.
UPDATE (Jan. 7, 3:00PM): Quotes!
Mike Fishman, President of SEIU 32BJ:
High-impact, cost-effective labor-management programs like [the Shortman Fund’s] Green Supers are vital to the success of President Obama’s energy and environmental protection agenda. With nearly 80 percent of New York’s greenhouse gas emissions produced by buildings it’s imperative for owners, workers, environmental groups and the Federal government to jointly tackle this environmental challenge.
Terry O’Sullivan, General President, LIUNA:
Weatherization on a nationwide scale will require hundreds of thousands of skilled workers and LIUNA’s weatherization training program is leading the way while creating good jobs for working families and their communities. LIUNA’s credentialed weatherization workers will set the standard for a new American industry.
*This post originally appeared in Change to Win on January 6, 2010. Reprinted with permission from the author.
About the Author Jason Lefkowitz: is the Online Campaigns Organizer for Change to Win, a partnership of seven unions and six million workers united together to restore the American Dream for everybody. He built his first Web site in 1995 and has been building online communities professionally since 1998. To read more of his work, visit the Change to Win blog, CtW Connect, at http://www.changetowin.org/connect.
Tuesday, January 5th, 2010
With the calendar turning to 2010, the Associated Press took a look back at the first year of Labor Secretary Hilda Solis’ tenure, pointing out that “her aggressive moves to boost enforcement and crack down on businesses that violate workplace safety rules have sent employers scrambling to make sure they are following the rules.”
In many ways, Solis has completely reversed the course of the Labor Department that was set by her predecessor, Elaine Chao. And Solis’ crackdown has business lobbyists yearning for the days when Chao ran the show:
“Our members are concerned that the department is shifting its focus from compliance assistance back to more of the ‘gotcha’ or aggressive enforcement first approach,” said Karen Harned, executive director of the National Federation of Independent Business’ small business legal center…Chao has claimed that success was the result of cooperating with businesses to help them understand the myriad regulations. Keith Smith, a spokesman for the National Association of Manufacturers, said his members “want to build upon [Chao’s] progress and recognize what’s working.”
Of course, what worked for big business didn’t work at all for workers, as Chao’s Labor Department spent eight years “walking away from its regulatory function across a range of issues, including wage and hour law and workplace safety.”
Consider some of Chao’s legacy. The Government Accountability Office found that her Department “did an inadequate job of investigating complaints by low-wage workers who alleged that their employers were stiffing them for overtime, or failing to pay the minimum wage.” In one survey, 68 percent of low-income workers reported a pay violation in the previous week alone.
The Department’s own inspector general blamed “a lack of management emphasis on worker safety” for unsafe conditions at mines leading to a jump in worker deaths, while fines for workplace safety violations fell so low that employers began “factoring them in as part of their cost of doing business rather than complying with labor laws.” In all, “workers lose $19 billion in wages and benefits through illegal practices, nearly 6,000 American workers die on the job, and at least 50,000 workers die due to occupational disease” each year.
Solis, meanwhile, “slapped the largest fine in [Department] history on oil giant BP PLC for failing to fix safety problems after a 2005 explosion at its Texas City refinery.” She is hiring 250 additional wage-theft inspectors, and “started a new program that scrutinizes business records to make sure worker injury and illness reports are accurate.”
Labor Department staffers were so disgruntled under Chao that they threw a “good-riddance party” to cheer her departure. But for big business, Chao’s tenure meant acting with impunity and facing puny fines on the rare occasions that that were caught, and they’d like to go back.
*This post originally appeared in The Wonk Room on January 4, 2009. Reprinted with permission from the author.
About the Author: Pat Garofalo is the Economics Researcher/Blogger for WonkRoom.org at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. His writing has also appeared in The Nation, The Guardian, the Washington Examiner, and at New Deal 2.0.
Monday, January 4th, 2010
This is an AP story written by SAM HANANEL. I am reposting to UnionReview.com with the hope of spreading the news.
Soon after she became the nation’s labor secretary, Hilda Solis warned corporate America there was “a new sheriff in town.”
Less than a year into her tenure, that figurative badge of authority is unmistakable. Her aggressive moves to boost enforcement and crack down on businesses that violate workplace safety rules have sent employers scrambling to make sure they are following the rules.
The changes are a departure from the policies of Solis’ predecessor, Elaine Chao. They follow through on President Barack Obama’s campaign promise to boost funding for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, increase enforcement and safeguard workers in dangerous industries.
Solis made a splash in October when OSHA slapped the largest fine in its history on oil giant BP PLC for failing to fix safety problems after a 2005 explosion at its Texas City refinery.
Garnering less attention, she just finished hiring 250 new investigators to protect workers from being cheated out of wage and overtime pay. She also started a new program that scrutinizes business records to make sure worker injury and illness reports are accurate. And she is proposing new standards to protect workers from industrial dust explosions — an effort the Bush administration had long resisted.
Some business groups say they prefer a more cooperative approach between government and businesses — what the Bush administration called “compliance assistance.”
“Our members are concerned that the department is shifting its focus from compliance assistance back to more of the ‘gotcha’ or aggressive enforcement first approach,” said Karen Harned, executive director of the National Federation of Independent Business’ small business legal center.
Other business leaders point out that the rate of workplace deaths and injuries actually fell to record lows in the previous administration, while the agency also helped employees collect a record amount of back pay for overtime and minimum wage violations. Chao has claimed that success was the result of cooperating with businesses to help them understand the myriad regulations.
Keith Smith, a spokesman for the National Association of Manufacturers, said his members “want to build upon that progress and recognize what’s working.”
But a November report from the Government Accountability Office suggested there is widespread underreporting of workplace safety issues. Investigators cited evidence that some employers pressure workers not to report illnesses and injuries and urged OSHA to be more aggressive in verifying business records.
Labor Department spokesman Jaime Zapata said the idea of helping businesses understand the rules remains an important part of the agency’s strategy, along with stepped-up enforcement. Solis plans to hire 100 new OSHA inspectors next year.
“Compliance assistance was not a creation of the last administration,” Zapata said.
The changes have drawn praise from organized labor leaders who spent millions to help get Obama elected. Solis, a former California congresswoman and daughter of immigrant parents who were both union members, is a favorite of labor unions and a longtime advocate for workers’ rights.
“We will not rest until the law is followed by every employer, and each worker is treated and compensated fairly,” Solis said last month as she described a new national public awareness campaign to make sure workers know their rights on the job.
The massive fine against BP certainly caught the public’s attention, but other businesses are also paying a steep price for violating safety rules.
Two months into the new fiscal year, OSHA has already cited six companies for “egregious” violations that carry the highest penalties. There were only four such egregious cases in all of the previous year.
Solis said her agency this year will tackle 90 new rules and regulations next year. One change would give workers more information about how their pay is computed. Another would make employers disclose whether they sought advice from anti-union labor consultants.
*This post originally appeared in The Union Review on January 2, 2009. Reprinted with permission from the author.
About the Author: Richard Negri is the founder of UnionReview.com and is the Online Manager for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
Wednesday, November 11th, 2009
While we take the time this Veterans Day to honor the courage and sacrifice shown by our veterans, we should also rededicate ourselves to making sure vets have a secure and stable life after they finish their service.
The U.S. Labor Department reports the unemployment rate among Iraq and Afghanistan veterans is 11.3 percent, significantly above the overall rate of 10.2 percent for the nation as a whole. Some 185,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are out of work. Many of these unemployed veterans are National Guard or Reserve troops who were called to duty but found when they came home that their old jobs were no longer there for them.
The AFL-CIO Union Veterans Council is calling on Congress to strengthen and enforce the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, which ensures veterans can claim their former jobs when they return from active duty.
In his Veterans Day message, Union Veterans Council Chairman Mark Ayers quotes President Franklin Roosevelt who signed the first GI Bill into law in 1944:
What our servicemen and women want, more than anything else, is the assurance of satisfactory employment upon their return to civil life.
“For today’s veterans, that same desire holds true,” Ayers says.
Click here to read Ayers’ message.
There is good news for vets on this holiday. President Obama signed on Nov. 9 a new executive order that underscores to federal agencies the importance of recruiting and training veterans, to increase the employment of veterans within the executive branch and to help recently hired veterans adjust to civilian life.
The executive order establishes a Veterans Employment Program office within most federal agencies, the White House said. These offices will be responsible for helping veterans identify employment opportunities within federal agencies, providing feedback to veterans about their employment application status, and helping veterans recently employed by agencies adjust to civilian life and a workplace culture often different than military service.
Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and Veterans Affairs Secretary will chair a high-level committee to oversee the program. Click here to read the executive order.
The Union Veterans Council also is calling for other federal programs, as well:
- Expanding state and local programs for providing job training and employment counseling services.
- Increasing coverage of the new post-9/11 GI Bill to include payments for apprenticeships and on-the-job training.
- Continuing funding for the nationally recognized AFL-CIO “Helmets to Hardhats” program, which has placed tens of thousands of transitioning veterans into careers in the construction industry.
Ayers sums it up this way:
On this Veterans Day, we have the privilege of honoring these very special American men and women whose sacrifices and service are beyond most people’s comprehension. We owe them a great deal. First and foremost, we owe them our freedom. Secondly, we owe them our gratitude. And finally, we owe them the prospect of a secure and stable life upon the conclusion of their service.
This post originally appeared in AFL-CIO blog on November 10, 2009. Reprinted with permission from the author.
About the Author: James Parks had his first encounter with unions at Gannett’s newspaper in Cincinnati when his colleagues in the newsroom tried to organize a unit of The Newspaper Guild. He saw firsthand how companies pull out all the stops to prevent workers from forming a union. He is a journalist by trade, and worked for newspapers in five different states before joining the AFL-CIO staff in 1990. He has also been a seminary student, drug counselor, community organizer, event planner, adjunct college professor and county bureaucrat. His proudest career moment, though, was when he served, along with other union members and staff, as an official observer for South Africa’s first multiracial elections.
Tuesday, September 29th, 2009
(Reposted from Open Left)
Wage Theft Is Rampant-Estimated at Roughly $2.9 Billion Annually
Last week I wrote a diary on a new report about widespread wage theft among low-income workers, “”Broken Laws, Unprotected Workers””. I said that I was working on an article for Random Lengths News. It was published on Thursday, and I’m republishing here below.
Property crime is a serious concern in America today. In 2007, the total dollar value of all property officially reported stolen in California-population about 38 million-was just over $2.8 billion, almost half of which was motor vehicle theft. The rest came to $1.47 billion. Of that $2.8 billion close to one-third of it was recovered-$912 million.
But a new report indicates that these statistics are woefully incomplete. “Broken Laws, Unprotected Workers” finds that wage theft is rampant among the bottom 15 percent of the workforce, and so widespread that workers in just three cities-Los Angeles, Chicago and New York City (total population about 15 million)-had roughly $2.9 billion in wages stolen from them in 2008, a rate more than double that of reported theft in California. As for recovering any of it, workers were more likely to get fired for asking than ever seeing a dime of what had been stolen from them.
“The reason we did this study, we were running to into this in our qualitative work,” said Ruth Milkman, a professor of sociology at UCLA who was one of eleven co-authors of the report. “My collaborators had all encountered this,” she said, “But nobody really knew how common it was. We thought, wow, we could really figure this out.”
Paul Rosenberg :: Robbed On The Job
The study involved a representative survey of 4,387 workers, who were robbed in various different ways. More than two-thirds-68 percent-experienced at least one pay-related violation the previous work week. The average stolen was $51-bad enough for anyone. But these are the lowest-paid workers in the economy.”Their average earnings for a week were $339,” said Milkman. “The amount lost was 15 percent.”
This equals an average yearly loss of $2,634 out of $17,616. The report estimates that over 1.1 million workers are affected. But they weren’t the only ones hurt, Milkman noted. “If these people were being fully paid, they would spend it locally and local businesses and communities would benefit,” she pointed out.” What’s more, she added, it also hurts companies that are obeying the law, and paying workers what they’re owed, making it harder for them to compete with lawbreakers.
Breaking the violations down, the report found that 26 percent of those surveyed were paid less than the minimum wage the previous work week. Of those, 60 percent were robbed of more than $1 per hour. Over one quarter worked more than 40 hours the previous week, of which 76 percent were robbed of legally required overtime pay. On average, this amounted to 11 hours of overtime “either underpaid or not paid at all.”
Additionally, almost 40 percent of those surveyed worked off the clock-either before or after their paid shift. Of these 70 percent were not paid for their extra work.
Milkman cites one example of a nurse’s aide she interviewed. “She told me that over and over again she would clock out for the day, and then the supervisor would say, ‘Maria, could you check in on so-and-do in Room 23?'”
Adding insult to injury is the feeling of helplessness. “She didn’t feel she could do anything about it,” Milkman said.
That feeling is common among crime victims-but how many other sorts of crime victims are victimized day after day, week after week? And what does it means to be robbed by someone you interact with every day? What does this do corrode people’s determination and belief in the American dream?
“Great question,” Milkman responded, “But not one we tried to probe, so I can’t presume to comment.”
Tipped jobs not only suffered sub-standard pay-30 percent were paid less than the tipped worker minimum wage-but also theft of their tips-which was reported by 12 percent of tipped workers.
In a country where crime stories pepper the local tv news every night, it’s astonishing that such a massive crime wave has been going on, virtually undetected right under our noses. One reason for this is what happens to the victims if they try to complain. According to the report, one in five workers reported trying to complain to their employer, or trying to form a union in past year. For their troubles, “43 percent experienced one or more forms of illegal retaliation from their employer or supervisor.” These included suspensions or firing, threats to cut hours or pay, and threats to call immigration.
“One case that really affected me involved a woman, a housekeeper in a hotel chain, well-know, but I can’t say which one, in the Valley,” Milkman recalled. “She cleaned rooms in the hotel. She was undocumented. She received her pay in cash. She wasn’t paid even minimum wage. She worked over 40 hours a week. Finally, she complained to the supervisor and was told they didn’t need her the next week. She was fired.” But there was more. “This is also a tale about tip work,” Milkman explained. “When she got done cleaning, the supervisor would go into the rooms before she returned, to steal her tips.”
“I was in tears when I heard that,” Milkman said.
There are things that can be done, and the report cites three principles that it says “should drive the development of a new policy agenda to protect the rights of workers.” First is to strengthen enforcement of existing labor laws, both by increased staffing and by new enforcement strategies. Second is updating legal standards for today’s labor market-including strengthening the right to organize. Third is to establish equal status for immigrants in the workplace.
Now that the problem is known, action is possible-but not guaranteed. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis has promised increased enforcement, Milkman noted, but that’s only one part of the solution. Key to a full solution is public sentiment and political will.
“The danger with this is, this is a new enough phenomena that people are horrified when they hear about it,” Milkman said. “But the real danger is that it becomes a part of the economic landscape,” she cautioned. “Now the question is what are we going to do about it?”
There is a real danger that it could become something that we simply accept, she warned And here Milkman drew an analogy to the emergence of mass homelessness in the early Reagan era. “When it first started, there was a lot of distress and intense discussion and debate about it, and now we take it for granted. It’s like we live in India.”
The hope is that times are different now, and the direction of the economy can change.
“These laws were put in place when the economy changed directions during the Great Depression,” Milkman said. “We have an opportunity, with the Obama Administration, to change directions again.”
“But it’s not just going to happen,” she warned. “People have to push for it.
About the Author: Paul Rosenberg is progressive activist and journalist who is a frontpage blogger for OpenLeft.org and Senior Editor for Random Lengths News, an alternative bi-weekly in the Los Angeles Harbor Area, where he specializes in labor, community and environmental justice issues. From his anti-war and civil rights activism as a teenager in the 1960s, through his involvement in food co-ops in the 1970s, to his Central American solidarity work, media and renters’ rights activism in the 1980s, and beyond, he has focused his energy primarily on issue activism, with increasing attention to media from the mid-1980s on. He began working as a freelance journalist with a primary focus on op-eds and book reviews in 1994, and joined Random Lengths News in 2002. He’s been published in the Progressive magazine, Publishers Weekly, the LA Times, Christian Science Monitor, and Dallas Morning News.
This article originally appeared in Open Left and Random Lengths News on September 27. 2009. Re-printed with permission from the author.
Friday, May 29th, 2009
Labor Secretary Hilda Solis will suspend the midnight Bush Administration changes to weaken labor protections in the nation’s agricultural guestworker program. The changes to the H-2A guestworker program took effect January 17, 2009, and have had a dramatic impact on wages and working conditions for agricultural workers under the program. In a notice to be published in the Federal Register tomorrow, the Labor Department announces it will reinstate the former regulations in 30 days.
“This is a great relief for our nation’s farmworkers.” said Arturo S. Rodriguez, President of the United Farm Workers (UFW). “The Bush Administration’s rules lowered wages and worker protections and made it easier to bypass legal U.S. workers in favor of guestworkers. We are overjoyed that the Secretary has overturned these cruel and illegal changes.”
The Labor Department decided to issue the suspension after a lawsuit was filed by farmworker unions, including the United Farm Workers (UFW), the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, AFL-CIO (FLOC), Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (PCUN) challenging the legality of the changes. The lawsuit is still pending but worker groups praised the DOL’s decision. FLOC President Baldemar Velasquez called the announcement, “an important victory against the Bush Administration’s efforts to exclude farm workers from voicing their concerns over the harsh policies of a bygone era.”
The groups emphasized, however, that for all H-2A applications filed during the period when the Bush-Chao regulations have been in effect, farmworker employment will continue to be governed by the terms and conditions of the Bush regulations, including the lower wage rates imposed by the Bush rules.
Farmworker Justice remains concerned about the wages and working conditions of those workers hired under the Bush-Chao changes. There also remains a pressing need to address the farm labor supply issue in a more comprehensive manner. One-sided changes to the H-2A program do not solve our nation’s agricultural labor supply issues. We need Congress to pass the AgJOBS bill.
AgJOBS, the Agricultural Job Opportunities, Benefits and Security Act, recently reintroduced in both houses of Congress would stabilize the farm labor force by allowing undocumented farmworkers who meet certain requirements to come forward and pay fines to earn a temporary legal status and gain documentation. It would also revise the H-2A program in balanced ways that have been agreed to by both industry and labor. The AgJOBS proposal has broad bipartisan support.
About the Author: Bruce Goldstein joined Farmworker Justice as a staff attorney in 1988, then served as Co-Executive Director starting in September 1995, and was named Executive Director in July 2005. At Farmworker Justice, Bruce has focused on litigation and advocacy on immigration issues and labor law, with a special emphasis on the H-2A temporary foreign agricultural worker program. Bruce has also sought to address the problem of “farm labor contractors” and other labor intermediaries used by farming operations, often in an attempt to avoid responsibility for complying with labor laws.
This originally appeared in Harvesting Justice on May 28, 2009. Reprinted with permission by the author.
Thursday, February 12th, 2009
Finally, good news, as reported in The Nation:
The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, where the [nomination of California Congresswoman Hilda] Solis had been stalled, voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday evening to recommend confirmation of the congresswoman.
Solis, a labor ally who whose confirmation process was delayed by conservative Republicans who objected to her union ties and progressive politics, got the committee O.K. on a voice vote. Only two Republican members of the committee were heard to object.
A full Senate vote is likely this week, and Republican opposition appears to be crumbling.
As noted in the article, opponents to her confirmation first latched on to a tax issue related to her husband’s small business, aka, “A partisan ploy designed to embarrass Obama following the Daschle debacle, rather than a serious complaint about Solis.” Then, “[a]n objection to the involvement of the pro-labor congresswoman with pro-labor groups was acknowledged even by some Republicans as laughable.”
Once again, U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy, flown in to vote on the stimulus bill, was able to break the logjam:
Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee chair Kennedy, a Solis ally and champion, saw an opening and seized it. After consulting Wednesday with key Republicans on the committee, Kennedy scheduled a hasty committee session, called for a vote and got the Solis nomination out of committee and headed toward confirmation.
And that, my friends, is the real value, for any aligned contingent, in having incumbency, experience and seniority on your side. It’s also the textbook definition of politics.
Other reports: Alternet, Boston.com and, from the AFL-CIO blog, word that the vote might even come tomorrow.
Workforce Management offers one additional hold up that could occur, however:
Once Solis is put before the whole Senate, any member could prevent a vote by placing a “hold” on it. Her nomination would almost certainly prevail in a roll-call vote. Democrats hold a 58-41 majority, with a disputed Minnesota race still pending.
A White House spokesman said Wednesday that he anticipates Senate approval.
“I think that process will hopefully conclude quickly,” said Robert Gibbs, White House press secretary. “The president has confidence in her ability to continue the department’s mission.”
Now, to be fair, one of the concerns about Solis is her support of the Employee Free Choice Act. You can read more about it here at Congresspedia. It has not yet been introduced in the 111th Congress. It deals with simplifying the way in which employees can form and choose to be members of unions. However, employers allege a fear that people will be pressured into joining as well as a more realistic fear that the ranks of unions will swell. Here’s an interesting article intended for management about how to deal, preventatively, with the likelihood of EFCA becoming law.
It’s late so I’ll pass on describing my experiences with unions but frankly, like most everything else, thre are points to be made for both sides and the bottom line is, as with the Lilly Ledbetter Act, if businesses treated their workers better, as a general rule, none of this stuff would be necessary, but it’s just not that way.
About the Author: Jill Miller Zimon is an award-winning freelance writer, blogger and political commentator. Her election coverage appeared on Newsweek’s The Ruckus and she has provided on-air political analysis for Cleveland public radio (WCPN) and television (WVIZ), CNN, BBC and other broadcast outlets. You can listen to or watch selections of her appearances here. Zimon started her blog, Writes Like She Talks, in 2005. In Fall 2007, she joined the Plain Dealer/cleveland.com online venture, Wide Open. It was the first paid collaboration between a traditional newspaper and independent political bloggers in the country. This past August, she was named to WE Magazine’s list of 101 Women Bloggers to Watch This Fall. Zimon’s other blogging work includes being a Contributing Editor for BlogHer.com’s Election 2008 coverage and co-editing the Carnival of Ohio Blogs since 2007 on a voluntary basis. She was a board member of the Society of Professional Journalists Cleveland Pro Chapter in 2007 and presented at SPJ’s national conference in 2005.
Cross-posted from Writes Like She Talks.