Working people and their unions have finally ended one of
their toughest fights ever - an eight-year-long struggle with the most
virulently anti-labor president in American history.
Of all those bidding Bush good riddance, none have more
reason than organized labor and the workers it champions. The record of Bush's antipathy to them
is truly staggering.
Consider, for starters, Bush's appointment of a
notoriously anti-union secretary
of labor , Elaine Chao, and an anti-union majority to control the National
Labor Relations Board.
The Bush appointees have played a major role in stripping
union and civil service rights from more than a million federal employees,
cutting back raises that had been due them and most others on the government
payroll, and shifting thousands of unionized federal jobs to private non-union
They've increased the staff and budgets for investigating
and auditing unions, while decreasing those for enforcing employer violations
of labor standards, including those covering child labor and pay discrimination and violence against
They imposed onerous, highly dangerous working conditions
on air traffic controllers, made it much harder for unions to finance political
activities and conduct routine day-to-day operations, reversed dozens of the
Labor Board's pro-worker rulings, and denied millions of workers the right to
overtime pay. Millions more, such as the temporary and part-time workers who
make up a substantial and growing segment of the workforce, have even been
denied the basic right of unionization.
And there's more. Much, much more. For example, Bush's
blocking of strikes against anti-union airlines and waterfront employers, his
opposition to increasing the pitifully inadequate minimum wage and his refusal
to support strengthening the rights of workers for leaves to care for ill
Not to mention Bush's failure to deal with chronic
unemployment and need for extensive job creation and job training programs. His
approval of trade agreements and so-called guest worker programs that do not
guarantee basic rights and decent treatment to either foreign or domestic
workers. His attempts to require federal contractors to actively dissuade
employees from joining unions. His rescinding of a regulation that denied
federal contracts to companies that repeatedly violate labor or environmental
As bad as all that is, there's worse. There's the Bush
administration's abysmal record on job safety -- a record that the chairman of the occupational health
section of the American Public Health Association, Robert Harrison, rightly cites
as one of "dismal inaction."
Bush has stood by while the number of workers dying on
the job has reached almost 6,000 per year and the number seriously injured has
grown to more than two million. At least 50,000 others have been dying yearly
from cancer, lung and heart ailments and other occupational diseases caused by
exposure to toxic substances.
What's needed most is strengthening the Occupational
Safety and Health Act, the two related laws that cover mine safety and the
agencies that administer the laws. For more than three decades, the agencies
have been the only real tools for protecting workers from physical harm. Yet
they've been woefully underfunded, woefully understaffed and woefully lax in
enforcing the law.
The agencies have been run by political appointees of
Bush, many of them former executives from the industries they're supposed to
regulate, with little input from workers or their representatives. They have
blocked, withdrawn or weakened dozens of safety rules and stopped development of
others recommended by safety and health experts. They've discontinued safety
education and training programs, reduced their staffs, and cut their budgets by
millions of dollars, despite the steady increase in deaths and injuries.
The agencies take the word of employers that they have
voluntarily complied with those rules that remain on the books and have
provided little protection to workers who face employer retaliation for
challenging their word. Fines for
violations have, in any case, rarely been more than token amounts. Even rarer
have been criminal charges against employers whose willful violations have led
to injury, illness or death.
In one of his first acts as president, Bush signed
Republican-sponsored legislation that repealed regulations - enacted under President Clinton after a decade
of research - that covered the most common occupational hazards.
The regulations were designed to protect the many workers
who risk the serious neck and back problems, chronically sore arms and wrists
and other "repetitive motion injuries" that now account for more than
60 percent of all on-the-job injuries.
One of Barack Obama's first acts as president clearly
should be to reinstate those regulations and take the many other steps needed
to undo the great damage that George Bush has done to America's working people.
Copyright (c) 2009 Dick Meister