Bush’s Labor Department Sets Priorities Against Organized Labor

    The federal Labor Department is using taxpayer funds to target and investigate labor unions under the Bush administration, while operations to enforce minimum wage and child labor laws have taken a backseat, according to budget documents.Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao, the longest-serving Cabinet member under the Bush Administration, testified before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and related agencies earlier in the month regarding the Labor Department’s proposed funding for the 2009 national budget.

    During the hearing, Chao lauded the agency’s priority to rebuild its Office of Labor Management Standards (OLMS), an office that performs audits and criminal investigations against labor unions for financial disclosure violations. The OLMS was formed to enforce provisions of the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959, originally created to prohibit felons and members of the Communist Party from holding union office.

    According to Chao’s testimony before the House subcommittee, the number of financial compliance audits against labor unions have risen 226 percent since 2001, while the number of convictions increased by 16 percent during the same time frame. The Labor Secretary described these factors as critical to enforce “provisions of federal law that establish standards for union democracy and financial integrity.”

    Chao has requested $58.3 million for the OLMS, continuing a trend that has increased funding for the office since she began her term at the Labor Department.

    Federal budget documents show that funding for the labor union disclosure office has increased from $33 million in 2001 to $47 million in 2007, an increase of 42 percent. At the same time, funding for the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division, which enforces minimum wage, overtime and child labor laws, has increased from $168 million in 2001 to $176 million in 2007, an increase of approximately 5 percent.

    To put the data in perspective, funding for the OLMS has increased by 62 percent from 1997-2007 while the wage office’s funding has increased by 49 percent for the same period.

    The Labor Department states that its mission is to promote “the welfare of the job seekers, wage earners, and retirees of the United States by improving their working conditions, advancing their opportunities for profitable employment, protecting their retirement and health care benefits, helping employers find workers, strengthening free collective bargaining, and tracking changes in employment, prices, and other national economic measurements.”

    A national pro-union advocacy group called American Rights at Work kicked off an Internet campaign in March called Shame On Elaine, highlighting what the group says are the Labor Secretary’s anti-worker and pro-corporate business political stances.

    In January, the OLMS successfully brought a case against a Colorado plasterers union official, who was convicted of embezzlement.

    Erin Rosa was born in Spain and raised in Colorado Springs. She is a freelance writer currently living in Denver. Rosa's work has been featured in a variety of news outlets including the Huffington Post, Democracy Now!, and the Rocky Mountain Chronicle, an alternative-weekly in Northern Colorado where she worked as a columnist covering the state legislature. Rosa has received awards from the Society of Professional Journalists for her reporting on lobbying and woman's health issues. She was also tapped with a rare honorable mention award by the Newspaper Guild-CWA's David S. Barr Award in 2008--only the second such honor conferred in its nine-year history--for her investigative series covering the federal government's Supermax prison in the state. Rosa covers the labor community, corrections, immigration and government transparency matters. She can be reached at erosa@www.coloradoindependent.com.

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