Monday, April 18, 2005

Mission Corrupted

(Courtesy of The Stakeholder)

Rep. George Miller (D-CA) blasted the growing politicization of the U.S. Department of Labor today, at the same time as the agency "frequently fails in its primary mission to protect American workers and that misuses public resources." Miller's dead-on critique follows below and is available in its original form on the web here.

Representative Miller Says Labor Department is Growing Increasingly
Cites Decision to Investigate AFL-CIO’s Social Security Campaign as Example of Misuse of Public Resources

Monday, April 18, 2005

WASHINGTON, DC -- Representative George Miller (D-California) said today that he harbors serious concerns that the Bush Administration is turning the Department of Labor into a partisan political organization, one that frequently fails in its primary mission to protect American workers and that misuses public resources.

Miller cited a recent decision by the Labor Department, prompted by a letter from two Republican lawmakers, to consider launching an investigation of the AFL-CIO over the trade federation’s public outreach campaign on Social Security as evidence of the growing politicization of the Department. The AFL-CIO has publicly opposed the President’s plan to privatize Social Security, and Miller said the investigation appears to be retaliatory.

“I am deeply concerned that partisan politics is dominating the decision making at the Bush Labor Department to the detriment of its official mission to honestly represent and protect the interests of America’s working women and men,” said Miller, the senior Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee.

“Under President Bush, the Department of Labor has increasingly shifted its resources and attention away from protecting workers and towards attacking the organizations that represent workers. It looks like this has more to do with using official resources to retaliate against organized labor because it opposes certain Bush Administration policies, not because there is a documented concern about
increased legal violations by organized labor.”

The Labor Department’s shifting focus is confirmed by an analysis of its

Funding for staffing at the Department’s Wage and Hour Division, which enforces overtime, minimum wage, and child labor laws, dropped $113 million between 2001 and 2005. And the Administration has not sought any increase in that division’s staffing budget for the 2006 fiscal year.

Meanwhile, funding for staffing at the Office of Labor Management Standards (OLMS), which investigates labor unions, increased $74 million (28.2 percent) over the same period. This has happened even though union financial reporting is now automated and digitized for online searches, and even though the share of the American workforce that belongs to a union – now at 7.9 percent of the private sector – is at an all-time low.

Yet the Administration is now seeking an additional $48 million for fiscal year 2006, a 14.3 percent increase over 2005, for OLMS staffing.

Congressmen John Boehner (R-OH) and Sam Johnson (R-TX) sent a letter to Secretary Chao in March that accused the AFL-CIO of several violations of the law for its Social Security campaign.

“Those accusations are without any merit,” said Miller. “The claims are an overreach of stunning proportions. Nevertheless, they have gained currency with the Bush Administration, which has made no secret of its desire to undermine labor unions.”

Miller raised his concerns in a letter today to Secretary Chao. Miller’s letter states that the accusations from Reps. Boehner and Johnson lack both legal and factual support and warns of the effects that an investigation of the AFL-CIO over its Social Security campaign would have.

“Any effort to use Department of Labor’s investigative arm to bully political opponents and chill their First Amendment Rights would set a shameful precedent, and would constitute an abuse of governmental authority,” Miller wrote in his letter.

“America’s labor unions have a Constitutional right to speak out on issues affecting the economic security of their members, free of governmental intimidation and threats.”

Bush Administration Using Taxpayer Dollars to Fund Partisan Events

Miller also criticized the Department for considering this investigation in light of the Department’s own efforts to promote President Bush’s privatization proposal. For example, the Department’s web site features a link on its front page to ‘,’ an Administration web site advocating privatization of Social Security. Secretary Chao herself recently spoke at an event in Pittsburgh that was part of the Administration’s ‘60 Stops in 60 Days’ Social Security tour.

“These events are highly partisan, complete with reported blacklists to exclude people because of their views, yet they are paid for with taxpayer dollars,” said Miller.

A Contrast with Labor Department’s Sweetheart Deal with Wal-Mart

In February, Miller criticized a deal between the Department of Labor and Wal-Mart that gives the giant retailer 15 days of prior notice before launching an investigation into a complaint of a violation of wage-and-hour law. In effect, Miller said, that deal would allow Wal-Mart to sweep complaints under the carpet before they are investigated. Miller contrasted that decision with the Department’s decision to investigate the AFL-CIO.

“Wal-Mart, an enormous corporation that has contributed lavishly to the Republican Party, gets special treatment even in the face of numerous violations of child labor laws,” said Miller.

“Meanwhile, the AFL-CIO, the primary organization representing American workers, might now get investigated even when no legitimate evidence has been presented to support the need for an investigation.

“The conclusion is inescapable: The Bush Administration is using the
Department of Labor as another weapon in its considerable political arsenal, to the detriment of workers and taxpayers. I am calling on Secretary Chao to stop using the department for partisan political purposes and return to the responsibility the department has to fairly represent American workers.”

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