- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 28, 2003

Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao yesterday accused organized labor of acting irrationally in its opposition to the Bush administration.

“I think the rhetoric is really overheated and exaggerated,” Mrs. Chao said during a press reception downtown.

Leaders of the AFL-CIO labor federation have said they plan to emphasize rising unemployment during their effort to replace President Bush with a Democrat in the 2004 election.

Nationally, unemployment rose to 6 percent in April, up from 5.8 percent in March, according to the Labor Department.

About 124,000 jobs were cut from February to March. Another 48,000 were lost from March to April.

“Since President Bush came into office, workers have had to fend off attacks on the most basic rights while the economy has shed more than 2 million jobs,” AFL-CIO spokeswoman Kathy Roeder said.

She mentioned health care benefits, overtime pay and workplace safety as worker rights in decline.

Mrs. Chao said any breakdown in relations with unions results from uncooperative labor leaders.

“It’s got to be a two-way street,” Mrs. Chao said. “I can’t work with people who don’t want to work with me.”

The AFL-CIO has said the president’s policies appeal primarily to the wealthy andlargely ignore concerns of average Americans.

Mrs. Chao said increased job-safety inspections by the Labor Department and National Labor Relations Board decisions that favor workers show that the Bush administration protects the interests of workers.

Reported job accidents have dropped 8 percent in the last year, she said. Construction fatalities are down 10 percent.

She also said the $350 billion tax cut that the president signed yesterday would stimulate the economy and increase jobs.

“My greatest concern is job creation and enforcement of the law,” Mrs. Chao said.

Union leaders said the tax breaks favor employers by allowing them to write off business expenses.

Mrs. Chao blamed part of the job declines on September 11 terror, which she said resulted in 1.5 million to 2 million layoffs. Most heavily damaged was the aviation industry.

Normal economic trends that the government cannot control are contributing to a weak economy, she said.

“Economics have their own cycles, and there are ups and downs,” Mrs. Chao said.

Her conflicts with unions culminated during the winter meeting of the AFL-CIO’s executive council in February in Hollywood, Fla.

“I have never seen a secretary of labor who is so anti-labor,” AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said after a meeting between labor leaders and Mrs. Chao at that gathering.

Mrs. Chao blamed the breakdown in relationson proposed Labor Department rules that would hold labor leaders to a higher standard of ethics in their financial dealings.

“The issue was transparency and accountability,” she said.

During the AFL-CIO meeting, she said she had a list of labor leaders convicted of financial crimes with union money, which showed the need for stricter disclosure requirements.

Only two weeks earlier, the Labor Department began an investigation of stock trades by a Washington insurance company called Ullico, which is owned by unions.

Top union leaders invested their own money in the company and reaped $6 million when Ullico repurchased their stock, prompting the investigation.

Ullico provides low-cost insurance for union members.


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