- The Washington Times - Friday, January 4, 2002

President Bush has been focusing more attention on labor issues of late, much to the chagrin of major union officials.
Mr. Bush has repealed a Clinton-era rule favored by unions that prevents the government from awarding contracts to businesses that have broken environmental, labor, tax or other federal laws.
He also has threatened to make a recess appointment of conservative labor lawyer Eugene Scalia, son of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, to inspector general at the Labor Department.
The Bush administration also has announced plans to eliminate the 10 regional offices of the Women's Bureau of the Labor Department and failed to deal with workplace safety after Congress repealed ergonomics regulations last spring.
Since the administration turned to labor issues, said the AFL-CIO's Karen Nussbaum, "There's been plenty of action. It's been all negative."
President Clinton signed the lawbreaking-contractor rule in 2000, a few months after a computer analysis by the Associated Press found hundreds of contractors remained eligible for new federal business despite convictions or lawsuits for defrauding the government.
The Bush administration had suspended enforcement of the rule in March and repealed it for good last week.
Business groups praised repeal, contending the regulation went too far and unfairly blacklisted companies that had minor infractions or had not been proved guilty.
"This rule gave government agents blanket discretion to blacklist federal contractors based on subjective and arbitrary notions of satisfactory compliance with any federal, state or even foreign law," said Randy Johnson, U.S. Chamber of Commerce vice president for labor and employee benefits. "Mere allegations of wrongdoing could prevent a business from winning a federal contract."
The chamber organized the National Alliance Against Blacklisting and lobbied Congress with other business groups.
Union officials retorted that a violator of labor, employment, environmental, civil rights or other federal laws cannot be trusted to receive government contracts.
Unions also are bracing for a Bush recess appointment of Mr. Scalia, which means he could serve without Senate confirmation until next January. The Senate went on its holiday break without taking up the nomination.
Organized labor opposes the appointment because of Mr. Scalia's opposition to a Clinton-era ergonomics regulation, killed by Congress last spring, which was aimed at reducing workplace injuries.
Congress repealed the regulation last year after a big legislative fight that pitted business against labor unions. After the repeal, Mrs. Chao promised a "comprehemsive plan" by her agency to reduce ergonomic injuries.
Occupational Safety and health Administration spokeswoman Bonnie Friedman said yesterday the announcement could come "very soon.

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