Whither American Jobs?

, Bethany Stotts, Leave a comment

Since the start of the recession in late 2007, American jobs seem to have gone the way of the wind. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics August report, unemployment has increased by 3.3% since December 2007, with a loss of 6.7 million “payroll employment” jobs since the same month.

Could the current Administration’s labor policies, and not just deficit spending, be exacerbating the recession? On August 25, Former Labor Secretary Elaine Chao criticized the Obama Administration for hindering job creation.

“The Department of Labor is not usually a department that many conservatives gravitate to, and I think that’s a shame because the Department of Labor is one of the largest regulators in the federal government,” she said at the conservative Bloggers Briefing. “In fact, the Department of Labor is one of the biggest regulators of our economy,” argued Chao, asserting that the role government regulations play in “dampen[ing] the rate of job creation” was “one of the most critical points you all need to take a look at when you look at the actions of this administration.”

“Not only is it spending at the fastest rate in recent history, this government is also coming out with the largest number of regulations, both of which will have impacts, adverse impacts on the vitality of our recovery and also the rate of job creation,” she asserted.

In addition, Chao argued that the Obama Administration was ignoring federal legislation by abridging comment periods for new regulations. “At the start of this Administration, we have found that this Administration basically is bypassing the Administrative Procedures Act,” she argued. “They gave ten days for notice and comment where we were very often required to provide ninety days, a hundred and twenty days, a hundred and eighty days. That’s just one little example.”

This March the Labor Department decided to suspend the Bush Administration’s last-minute changes to the H-2A agricultural guestworker program for nine months, but provided only a 10-day comment period before the suspension. “Several farmworker groups, including the United Farm Workers (UFW), the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC), Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (PCUN) and Farmworker Justice, among others, warned that the changes would have devastating effects for agricultural workers and tried to prevent them from taking effect,” wrote Barb Howe for Farmworker Justice this March.

In contrast, the Kentucky Farm Bureau issued an “Action Alert” claiming that the rule change was to benefit the United Farm Workers union after it lost a lawsuit calling for a “temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction” against the rule. “Farmers have already made their plans for the coming year and if the Department of Labor changes the rules in the middle of the season it could create significant confusion that could result in farmers not being able to meet their needs,” cause higher food costs or “drive more production offshore,” the KFB asserted.

While at the bloggers briefing, the former Labor Secretary also criticized the Obama Administration for what she saw as backward steps on union transparency and a worker’s bill of rights, as proposed by the Bush Administration. She said that it took the DOL two years to upgrade the DOL website under Bush, but the website was “completely changed” as of January 21st, and that the heretofore prominent link to unionreports.gov—which allows citizens to search union financial reports—had been buried with the website overhaul. Now “…it’ll take several clicks to get to unionreports.gov,” she said.

“We actually had, the previous administration actually issued a Bill of Rights for labor members, that they had a right to join a union, they had a right not to join a union,” she said. “When this administration came in, they withdrew any mention of that union member Bill of Rights from their packet of posters, from their requirements of the posters that need to be posted at workplaces,” Chao asserted. The Obama administration also withdrew the Bush Administration’s Beck Poster informing workers that they could receive back the portion of their dues used for political purposes, she said.

The Administration’s January 30 executive order required the DOL to begin rulemaking on a new set of posters to be used by government subcontractors.

On August 3, the DOL announced that it was proposing “mandatory union postings for federal contractors,” according to one legal analysis, which defined the rule as requiring the following language:

1) “the policy of the United States is to encourage collective bargaining,”

2) “under federal law, employees have the right to organize a union and take collective action, ‘including attending rallies on non-work time, and leafleting on non-work time in non-work areas’,”

3) “employees have the right to ‘strike and picket, unless [their] union has agreed to a no-strike clause,’”

4) “employees may ‘choose not to do any of these activities, including joining or remaining a member of a union,’”

5) “it is illegal for an employer to question employees about union activities, discriminate against employees because of their union activities, or promise employees benefits to discourage union support,”

6) “it is illegal for an employer to ‘prohibit employees from wearing union hats, buttons, t-shirts, and pins in the workplace except under special circumstances,’” and

7) “it is illegal for a union to ‘discriminate or take other adverse action against [employees] based on whether [they] have joined or support the union’” (emphasis added).

“The notice provisions would only apply to subcontracts that are ‘necessary to the performance’ of the government contract, although that term is not defined further,” stated the analysis.

Bethany Stotts is a staff writer at Accuracy in Academia.