FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

A Ray of Hope for Labor

by DAVID MACARAY

All things considered, Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis has had an impressive rookie year.  Not only has the former California congresswoman garnered praise from labor, immigration, human rights and other progressive groups, the case can be made that, of all 16 members of President Obama’s Cabinet, her performance—low-key and “unglamorous” as it was—has been the most impressive.

Consider:  With Solis at the helm, British Petroleum (BP), the fifth-largest corporation in the world, received the stiffest fine in OSHA’s 39-year history:  a whopping $87,430,000.  BP was found guilty of “egregious” and “willful violations” for repeatedly failing to fix safety problems at its sprawling Texas City oil refinery, following a massive explosion in 2005.

While government oversight agencies are renowned for dragging their feet in investigations and chickening out when it comes to punishment, Solis didn’t hesitate to fire a salvo across the bow of Corporate America.   By slapping BP with an $87 million fine, she showed she was serious about the changing the dynamic of employee-employer relations in regard to workplace safety.

Compare this attitude with that of Elaine Chao, Bush’s Secretary of Labor (former Peace Corps Director and wife of Kentucky senator Mitch McConnell), who, through incompetence, inaction and complicity, was judged to have set the labor movement back a quarter-century.  To make matters worse, she served two full terms, the most for any Secretary of Labor since FDR’s Frances Perkins.  A Labor Secretary can undo a lot of good in eight years.

It was Chao, the free-market zealot and ultra-ambitious career administrator, who accepted the notion that “Business can police itself,” a goofy management philosophy that’s been peddled for decades by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Heritage Foundation, among others.  Any student of human nature could have told her that such a philosophy can’t work.

Even the country’s prestigious military academies, steeped as they are in tradition, were forced to modify their “honor codes” after several embarrassing cheating scandals. How could anyone seriously expect some half-baked honor system tied to the profit motive to succeed?  Indeed, it was this same anti-regulation policy that Wall Street has been spouting for years (“Leave us experts alone and we’ll make money for everyone”), and look how that puppy turned out.

Safety doesn’t come cheap.  It costs money to establish and maintain a safe workplace, which is why union shops have better safety records than non-union shops (e.g., approximately 90% of mining accidents occur in non-union mines). Yet, astonishingly, businesses were able to convince Secretary Chao that, without interference or regulation, they could be relied upon to do everything in their power—including spending all the money necessary—to a ensure a safe facility.  As Bernie Madoff famously said, “You’re just going to have to trust me.”

Solis is also focusing on employee compensation abuses.  Each year there are hundreds of thousands of cases of restaurant, janitorial and low-end industrial employees being cheated out of their wages by unscrupulous employers.  They get away with this because the majority of these employees are Hispanic immigrants who fear losing their jobs if they complain too loudly or attempt to contact an outside agency.

The level of hypocrisy (to say nothing of the greed quotient) is staggering. You have businessmen who eagerly join flag-waving Republicans in railing against undocumented immigrants, but who continue to hire these workers, continue to pay them less than the federal minimum wage ($7.25 per hour), and—cheap bastards that they are—continue to systematically cheat them out of their hours, knowing they won’t go complaining to the state.

While immigrants are among the most victimized workers, they are by no means the exclusive target.  It was only a couple of years ago that Walmart, the world’s largest and highest profile retailer, was forced to pay $640 million in back wages.  The settlement was the result of 63 class-action lawsuits filed by Walmart employees for overtime hours worked but not paid (something that could never, ever happen in a union shop, not in a million years).

Solis has taken the first step.  She has already followed through on her promise to add 250 additional investigators to the Wage and Hour Administration—the agency responsible for handling pay disputes—and has promised to hire 100 additional OSHA investigators by the summer of 2010.

It should be recalled that after being sworn in, Ms. Solis dramatically declared, “There’s a new sheriff in town.”  This declaration was her promise to pursue corporate violators doggedly and with a vengeance.  Let’s hope she keeps that promise.

DAVID MACARAY, a playwright and author (“It’s Never Been Easy:  Essays on Modern Labor,” available at Amazon), was a former union rep.  He can be reached at dmacaray@earthlink.net

More articles by:

David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is How To Win Friends and Avoid Sacred Cows.  He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

February 22, 2018
Mark Schuller
Haiti’s Latest Indignity at the Hands of Dogooders, Oxfam’s Sex Scandal
Jeffrey Sommers
Bond Villain in the World Economy: Latvia’s Offshore Banking Sector
Mark Schuller
Haiti’s Latest Indignity at the Hands of Dogooders, Oxfam’s Sex Scandal
T.J. Coles
How the US Bullies North Korea, 1945-Present
Ipek S. Burnett
Rethinking Freedom in the Era of Mass Shootings
Manuel E. Yepe
Fire and Fury: More Than a Publishing Hit
Patrick Bobilin
Caught in a Trap: Being a Latino Democrat is Being in an Abusive Relationship
Laurel Krause
From Kent State to Parkland High: Will America Ever Learn?
Terry Simons
Congress and the AR-15: One NRA Stooge Too Many
George Wuerthner
Border Wall Delusions
Manuel García, Jr.
The Anthropocene’s Birthday, or the Birth-Year of Human-Accelerated Climate Change
Thomas Knapp
Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Russiagate
February 21, 2018
Cecil Bothwell
Billy Graham and the Gospel of Fear
Ajamu Baraka
Venezuela: Revenge of the Mad-Dog Empire
Edward Hunt
Treating North Korea Rough
Binoy Kampmark
Meddling for Empire: the CIA Comes Clean
Ron Jacobs
Stamping Out Hunger
Ammar Kourany – Martha Myers
So, You Think You Are My Partner? International NGOs and National NGOs, Costs of Asymmetrical Relationships
Michael Welton
1980s: From Star Wars to the End of the Cold War
Judith Deutsch
Finkelstein on Gaza: Who or What Has a Right to Exist? 
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
War Preparations on Venezuela as Election Nears
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: Military Realities
Steve Early
Refinery Safety Campaign Frays Blue-Green Alliance
Ali Mohsin
Muslims Face Increasing Discrimination, State Surveillance Under Trump
Julian Vigo
UK Mass Digital Surveillance Regime Ruled Illegal
Peter Crowley
Revisiting ‘Make America Great Again’
Andrew Stewart
Black Panther: Afrofuturism Gets a Superb Film, Marvel Grows Up and I Don’t Know How to Review It
CounterPunch News Service
A Call to Celebrate 2018 as the Year of William Edward Burghardt Du Bois by the Saturday Free School
February 20, 2018
Nick Pemberton
The Gun Violence the Media Shows Us and the State Violence They Don’t
John Eskow
Sympathy for the Drivel: On the Vocabulary of President Nitwit
John Steppling
Trump, Putin, and Nikolas Cruz Walk Into a Bar…
John W. Whitehead
America’s Cult of Violence Turns Deadly
Ishmael Reed
Charles F. Harris: He Popularized Black History
Will Podmore
Paying the Price: the TUC and Brexit
George Burchett
Plumpes Denken: Crude thinking
Binoy Kampmark
The Caring Profession: Peacekeeping, Blue Helmets and Sexual Abuse
Lawrence Wittner
The Trump Administration’s War on Workers
David Swanson
The Question of Sanctions: South Africa and Palestine
Walter Clemens
Murderers in High Places
Dean Baker
How Does the Washington Post Know that Trump’s Plan Really “Aims” to Pump $1.5 Trillion Into Infrastructure Projects?
February 19, 2018
Rob Urie
Mueller, Russia and Oil Politics
Richard Moser
Mueller the Politician
Robert Hunziker
There Is No Time Left
Nino Pagliccia
Venezuela Decides to Hold Presidential Elections, the Opposition Chooses to Boycott Democracy
Daniel Warner
Parkland Florida: Revisiting Michael Fields
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail