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Posts Tagged ‘Secretary of Labor’

Is Acosta Being Kicked Upstairs?

Monday, May 7th, 2018

If you read last Monday’s Punching In by Bloomberg Law crack reporters Benn Penn and Chris Opfer, you know that there are some management attorneys who are less than enamored of Alex Acosta’s less-than-stellar deregulatory accomplishments and wish President Trump would kick him upstairs to a judgeship, which (rumor has it) is where the 49 year old former federal prosecutor would like to end up eventually.

After all, 15 months after Trump’s inauguration and one year after Acosta was sworn in, construction workers are still breathing air free from cancer causing silica dust, thanks to the efforts of the dreaded Obama administration.  Never mind that the court unanimously rejected the industry’s attempt to overturn the rule (which Acosta’s Labor Department vigorously and successfully defended.)

But hope springs eternal. The general industry Silica standard has not yet taken effect, so the Administration could theoretically still succeed in giving foundry workers the right to get cancer at work.

Taking Acosta’s place in these corporate fever dreams would be the newly appointed and allegedly less cautious Deputy Secretary of Labor Pat Pizzella. It seems that for some people there aren’t enough Trump Cabinet agencies embroiled in scandal and the Jack Abramoff-tainted Pizzella would undoubtedly be a much better fit with the rest of Trump’s ethically challenged cabinet members than the boring, straight-laced, and (so-far) ethically untainted Acosta.

Presumably, the climax of these management attorneys’ fantasies would be the appointment of a Scott Pruitt type to head the Labor Department — without the daily scandals of course.  But this raises some issues.

First, as former OMB analyst (and current Rutgers professor) Stuart Shapiro wrote last week, Pruitt’s deregulatory “accomplishments” have been more rhetoric and failure than actual accomplishment.

The reality is that he’s made less headway than advertised. To date, Pruitt’s EPA has been taken to court repeatedly over efforts to delay or repeal regulations finalized near the end of the Obama administration. His record in court on these issues is not good. The courts have struck down six attempts to delay or roll back regulations on pesticides, lead paint and renewable-fuel requirements, The New York Times reported.

The main reason for Pruitt’s failures is that he is no better at complying with regulatory rules than his is with ethics rules.

Repealing a regulation is hard. In fact it is just as hard as enacting one. In his haste to dismantle President Obama’s environmental legacy, Pruitt has skirted the procedural requirements necessary to defend his actions in court.  Those procedures are not easy to follow, but failure to follow them means near-certain defeat in the courts. The best way to make sure that the i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed is to rely on the experts, the civil servants within EPA.

And EPA’s civil servants are fleeing. (See “Rats,” “Sinking Ship.”)

Acosta, to his credit, seems to understand that problem, aside from the momentary lapse when he neglected to include the economic analysis of his tipping rule. But with the help of Congress, everyone pretty much kissed and made up over that too.

Yes, in theory, Acosta could ride into the sunset to be replaced with a Scott Pruitt/Andy Puzder Frankenstein’s monster at DOL who would try to rape and pillage worker protections without passing go — and without complying with the Administrative Procedures Act, the OSH Act or the many other laws that lay out rulemaking procedures based on the tiresome requirements of evidence, science and public input.

But as we’ve seen in this administration, undermining an agency’s mission and cutting corners on administrative procedures tends to go hand-in-hand with cutting corners on ethics — as well as the law.  Not a very good combination if your goal is to actually get something accomplished.

Alex Acosta may not my my ideal Labor Secretary by a long shot — and he will certainly never live down his infamous naming of Ronald Reagan to the Labor Hall of Honor (a deed that will be as hard to live down as Mitt Romney heading out on the family vacation with his dog strapped to the top of this car,) but he’s about the best we could expect in a Trump administration that sports such Cabinet luminaries as Scott Pruitt, Ben Carson, Jeff Sessions, Ryan Zinke, Steve Mnuchin and Betsy DeVos.

After all, he actually defended his failure to slash the budgets of DOL’s enforcement agencies before Congress by making the shockingly un-Republican argument that “Those are priorities. These laws matter. They’ve been passed by Congress. They are the laws of the land. They need to be enforced.”

Which is probably why this cabal of one-martini-over-the-line corporate attorneys would like to show him the door.

This blog was originally published at Confined Space on May 5, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jordan Barab was Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor at OSHA from 2009 to 2017, and spent 16 years running the safety and health program at the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).

Republicans Accuse Labor Nominee of Fighting for Civil Rights

Friday, April 19th, 2013

Dave JohnsonWhere does the Republican Party put its energy? On anything that furthers the interests of the wealthiest. Tax cuts and kicking government are right at the top of that list.* Also near the top comes blocking minimum wage increases, blocking workplace safety rules and keeping lots of people unemployed so they are desperate to take any nasty, dirty, low-paying job, etc. But next to tax cuts and keeping government from operating, Republicans fight to keep unions from being able to organize because the power of working people acting together collectively begins to challenge the power of concentrated wealth that corporations represent. To this end, Republicans hate and fight the U.S. Department of Labor and, now, the new nominee for secretary of labor.

In the News

Republican “oppo” researchers issued a 63-page report on Thomas Perez, who President Obama has nominated to fill the vacancy for secretary of labor. Perez currently serves as head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. The report accuses Perez of being corrupt because he fought to keep civil rights law intact by trading a case involving St. Paul landlords who were renting substandard homes in low-income areas for a case accusing St. Paul of not doing enough to help minorities win contracts.

The story is circulating today in the Washington Post, GOP Issues Critical Report of Labor Secretary Nominee Perez:

The GOP lawmakers accuse Perez of misusing his power last year to persuade the city of St. Paul, Minn., to withdraw a housing discrimination case before it could be heard by the Supreme Court. In exchange, the Justice Department agreed not to intervene in two whistleblower cases against St. Paul that could have won up to $200?million for taxpayers.

…Top Democrats on the House Oversight Committee issued a report on the investigation Sunday, writing that Perez ‘acted professionally to advance the interests of civil rights and effectively combat the scourge of housing discrimination.’ The Justice Department also defended Perez, saying litigation decisions made by the department ‘were in the best interests of the United States and were consistent with the department’s legal, ethical and professional responsibility obligations.’

The GOP report cites documents that suggest Perez’s decision frustrated and confused career lawyers at Justice who initially wanted to join the whistleblower cases against St. Paul. These lawyers described the department’s change of heart as ‘weirdness,’ ‘ridiculous’ and a case of ‘cover your head pingpong.’

 

Complicated…Perez’s deal kept the Justice Department out of one court case in exchange for keeping another from making it to the Supreme Court, which would use it to overturn important civil rights laws 5-4.

What Republicans Say Perez Did That Was Bad

The main charge against Perez (other than being brown) is that, as part of his duties in the Civil Rights Division, he brokered a deal in a housing discrimination case in St. Paul, to keep the case from reaching the Supreme Court. The St. Paul case would have enabled the Supreme Court to strike down “disparate-impact theory” in civil rights a labor law, with a 5-4 vote.

The current Roberts movement-conservative majority on the Supreme Court looks for cases that enable them to maneuver 5-4 votes to strike down laws that protect citizens from billionaires and corporations (who fund the conservative movement) in various ways. Citizens United is the best example of this. It undid campaign finance laws, enabling billionaires and giant corporations to put multiple millions into getting their candidates elected at every level. The case involving Perez is one that this court could have used to further harm citizen interests with a 5-4 vote.

The Case

In the early 2000s, a group of landlords were renting substandard (heat didn’t work, no locks, rotten floors, rat holes, bugs, broken pipes, etc.) housing to minorities in St. Paul. St. Paul cracked down with code enforcement. The landlords sued St. Paul, claiming code enforcement would violate the Fair Housing Act because minority tenants would have less access to…nasty, substandard housing with rotted floors, rats, etc.

That’s right, the slumlords sued the city arguing that if the city did code enforcement and it put them out of business, minorities wouldn’t have access to nasty, substandard housing that was infested with code violations. They claimed that code enforcement violated civil right laws by potentially decreasing minority access to nasty, substandard housing.

This is exactly the kind of case Republicans love because it turns the tables against minorities and makes the claim that the kind of businesses that scam on and prey on and take advantage of vulnerable and powerless citizens are really “performing a service.”

St. Paul’s lawyers had a duty to the city to do what they could to win for the city. They knew the Supreme Court had an interest in overturning the civil rights law that the slumlords were using to sue them, meaning they would win the case for the city. So St. Paul was taking the case to the Supreme Court even though the court would use it to strike down civil rights laws nationally.

Perez struck a deal to avoid this outcome. This is what Republicans are accusing him of.

The Other Case

The other side of the deal Perez brokered involved a suit against St. Paul claiming the city had not been using federal funds to sufficiently help minorities get contracts and jobs with the city. The case would have collapsed if the Justice Department didn’t get involved and could potentially cost the city millions if they did. So in exchange for St. Paul not taking the other case to the Supreme Court, Perez got the Justice Department to agree not to get involved.

What This Tells Us

All of this tells us that Perez understands the strategic long game that the billionaires and their giant corporations are playing, by investing in getting their people placed on the courts and Supreme Court, and how they manipulate cases to use to undermine long-standing laws that help regular people. What Perez did shows that he is there to fight for regular people, not to make a fortune by “playing along” while in a government position and then later receiving a high-paying payoff job with the corporations behind this.

Good Sources

A good source for understanding the complicated story is Adam Serwer in Mother Jones, The GOP Wants to Use This Bizarre Case to Scuttle Obama’s Most Progressive Cabinet Nominee:

The deal Perez helped cut likely prevented a landmark civil rights law from being struck down by the Roberts’ court. Perez’s civil rights division later used this law to secure record financial settlements against banks that discriminated against minority borrowers during the financial crisis. And Republicans were very angry about it.

Another source for a more conservative take on this is a series of posts by Sean Higgins in the Washington Examiner (note: you will be swarmed by pop-up ads):

A glimpse into how Thomas Perez operates.

More on the deal Thomas Perez cut with St. Paul.

How Thomas Perez might use ‘disparate impact’ theory as labor secretary.

*More from the list of where the Republican Party puts its energy: keeping people from voting, keeping objective information from reaching people, keeping entrenched “incumbent” interests like oil and coal and big pharmaceutical companies from facing serious competition, etc., etc.

This article was originally posted on the AFL-CIO on April 17, 2013. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Dave Johnson is a Fellow with Campaign for America’s Future and a Senior Fellow with Renew California.

Dave is founder and principal author at Seeing the Forest, and a blogger at Speak Out California. He is a frequent public speaker, talk-radio personality and a leading participant in the progressive blogging community.

 

Civil rights champion Thomas Perez being nominated for labor secretary

Thursday, March 21st, 2013

Laura ClawsonPresident Obama’s nomination of assistant U.S. Attorney General Thomas Perez for labor secretary becomes official today after more than a week of increasingly solid rumors. Perez has headed the civil rights division of the Justice Department since 2009; previously, he has been secretary of the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, a member of the Montgomery County Council, director of the civil rights office at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under Bill Clinton, and a special counsel to Sen. Ted Kennedy.

If confirmed, Perez will be the only Latino member of Obama’s second-term cabinet. He will also be a notable progressive voice in a cabinet containing or expected to contain several members less than friendly to workers and worker organizing, such as Hyatt Hotels heiress Penny Pritzker, the likely commerce secretary nominee.

Perez has a noteworthy record on both civil rights and labor issues; during his time there, the Justice Department “opened a record number of civil rights investigations into local police departments accused of brutality and/or discrimination,” challenged restrictive voter ID laws, gotten major fair-housing settlements, and more. Both in his time in Maryland and at the Justice Department, Perez has sought to strengthen and enforce worker protections:

Pushed for labor protections for domestic workers: Millions of domestic workers in the United States make low wages because they aren’t protected by labor law, a problem Perez sought to address while serving on Montgomery County’s City Council, where he pushed for contractual labor law protections and a minimum wage for such workers. After three years of debate, and after Perez had left the council, those protections became law in 2008 and gave domestic workers contractual labor rights they still lack in most of the United States.Protected immigrant workers from losing pay: Perez would take over the Dept. of Labor in the middle of Obama’s push for immigration reform, and he has experience dealing with immigration and labor issues. While serving in the Justice Dept., Perez investigated claims that employers were using Alabama’s new immigration law to avoid paying immigrant workers. “We continue to be concerned that certain employers may be using HB56 as an excuse not to pay workers,” he said, adding that he would “throw the book” at employers who weren’t paying workers. “We’re here. We will prosecute you. That is impermissible, period.”

Republicans are already teeing up their series of objections to Perez, from whether he accurately represented the role of political appointees in decisions about the New Black Panther Party case (not whether he politicized decisions, mind you, but whether he unknowingly was inaccurate about things that happened before he arrived in the Justice Department) or a Minnesota fair housing case that has Sen. Chuck Grassley upset. So we can likely expect a lengthy confirmation process, if not another outright filibuster. But if and when he’s confirmed, Perez looks likely to be a real champion of working people.

This article was originally posted on the Daily Kos on March 18, 2013. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is an editor at the Daily Kos.

Robbed on the Job

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.

Labor Secretary Reverses Bush's Attack on Farmworker Labor Laws

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.

Solis Appointment Moves Out of Senate Committee

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.

Help Wanted: A Secretary of Labor Who Cares About Workers

Tuesday, October 28th, 2008

We need a Labor Secretary in the mold of Francis Perkins, whose top priority was to help the working man.

In recent days, colleagues have asked me to write about the near-collapse of the economy. My first response was to decline — recognizing all too well that I, like most of our nation’s leaders, was not entirely clear about what was going on. I’ve always been a big believer that wisdom is about knowing when to keep your mouth shut (or fingers away from the keyboard). As Proverbs 17:28 says, “Even a fool, when he keeps silent, is counted wise. When he shuts his lips, he is thought to be discerning.”

Although I must admit that I am still not completely clear about what all has occurred and has not occurred, I am more convinced than ever that we need a Secretary of Labor who cares about workers and who will at least try to address issues faced by workers. Unfortunately for the nation, we have a Secretary of Labor who is Missing in Action.

When the unemployment figures came out last week, Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao issued a one-sentence statement: “Today’s employment report provides further evidence of the need for the House of Representatives to pass an economic rescue package today, before it adjourns, which will protect Main Street America and mitigate further job loss,” said U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao. That’s it. That’s all she could muster on the subject.

The day before, she’d given a lengthy speech to the Chamber of Commerce decrying the “Europeanization” of the workplace and denigrating unions. Meanwhile, her Wage and Hour Administrator, Alexander Passantino, claims the Division is doing a great job enforcing wage and hour laws. I’m sure the Education and Training Administrator says the agency is doing a great job there too. Throughout Chao’s speeches over the last year she’s been claiming what a great job the Bush Administration is doing for working people. Well, the emperor has no clothes.

In the midst of the economic meltdown, dramatically rising unemployment figures, military-style immigration raids in workplaces, employers stealing wages like there’s no tomorrow, young people unprepared for today’s jobs — let alone tomorrow’s — and assaults against unions and the right to organize at an all-time high, we need a Secretary of Labor who sees it as his or her job to protect workers. The Secretary of Labor must be the preacher in the bully pulpit for better working conditions for all the nation’s workers. Even if she can’t do anything, she could reach out and talk with workers.

Frances Perkins.

Frances Perkins was the Secretary of Labor appointed by Franklin D Roosevelt in 1932 to help him address the economic crisis left him by eight years of Coolidge and Hoover leadership.

She came to Washington, D.C. with a mission — in her words, to serve God, FDR and the working man. She came with a vision. She wanted to get people back to work, pass national standards for wage payment, and establish a social security system. She and her colleagues created the jobs programs that built many of our nation’s parks and bridges, she passed the Fair Labor Standards Act, the most comprehensive wage protection law in the nation, and she helped design the Social Security System.

Learning from the lessons of Frances Perkins, here’s what the new Secretary of Labor should do:

First, advocate stopping the workplace immigration raids. When Frances Perkins took over, the Department of Labor was responsible for workplace raids and she stopped them immediately. They were wrong then and they are wrong today.

Although Homeland Security, not Labor, has jurisdiction for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Labor Secretary should speak forcefully against this intimidation of workers that is a gross waste of taxpayer money.

Second, enforce the wage and hour laws in meaningful ways. Employers are stealing billions of dollars annually from the paychecks of millions of workers. Wage theft is a national crisis and the Department of Labor is asleep at the wheel. Just as an unregulated banking industry has brought forth catastrophe, unregulated workplaces have enabled employers to steal wages from workers on a mass scale. In 1941, Frances Perkins had 1,500 investigators in the field visiting 12 percent of the country’s workplaces to ensure that employers were paying people legally. Today, with more than 10 times as many workers covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act, there are half as many investigators. Employers know that the chances of getting caught stealing wages is minuscule and that if they are caught, the consequences are insignificant. The Secretary must go after wage theft. What better economic stimulus for the society than workers getting the wages they are owed and spending them in their communities?

Third, lead the charge in supporting unemployed workers. Unemployment insurance should be available widely to workers and job creation strategies should be pursued aggressively both through public incentives for private job creation and public jobs programs. Let’s create those green jobs everyone is talking about.

Fourth, commit to developing the 21st-century supports America’s workers need. During Perkins’s time, she focused on putting in place social security for America’s workers. Today, we need a national health care program. Forty-seven million workers and their families without health care is not in the best interest of workers or the nation as a whole. The Secretary of Labor should play a role in guaranteeing health care to all Americans.

Fifth, support the fundamental rights of all workers to organize into unions of their choice. Although Perkins wasn’t the first choice of labor unions for secretary, she overcame their hesitations with her steadfast support for workers’ rights to organize in the workplace. Elaine Chao, in contrast, has used her public voice to attack the Employee Free Choice Act, the most significant labor law reform to come along in decades.

When the economy is in shambles, it is America’s workers who take the biggest hit. Perhaps in the coming weeks and months, we will all understand better what has happened to our economy. But as we move forward as a nation in addressing the crisis, we need a Secretary of Labor who knows workers, cares for their concerns and speaks up for them. Our current Secretary of Labor is missing in action. We need to put the Labor back in Secretary of Labor.

About the Author: Kim Bobo, Founder and Executive Director of Interfaith Worker Justice, writes the “Dispatches from the Workplace” column for the online magazine Religion Dispatches. She is the author of Wage Theft in America: Why Millions of Working Americans Are Not Getting Paid — And What We Can Do About It (forthcoming in December from the New Press) and the co-author of Organizing for Social Change, the best-selling manual on progressive activism in the U.S.

This article originally appeared on the God’s Politics Blog (www.godspolitics.com).

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