Clinton Postpones Proposals to Reform Labor Law

Article excerpt

After promising to come up by midyear with proposals to deal with some of the nation's thorniest labor issues _ including whether to strengthen unions and how to regulate workers' councils _ the Clinton administration has decided to wait until November, probably after the congressional election.

The postponement is a setback for labor leaders, who had hoped that the administration would move forcefully to reverse labor's weakening position at the bargaining table. Seeking early action on this front, the president appointed a blue-ribbon commission last May to make policy recommendations within one year.

The commission sought an extension, arguing that its recommendations would be too contentious unless it had more time to sell its ideas. And the administration agreed to the postponement last weekend, even though it has been deferring action on labor issues until after the report is filed.

Justifying the delay, Labor Secretary Robert B. Reich said in an interview: "Worker-management relations today are very tense, given all the corporate downsizings, the increased litigation in the workplace, the technological changes and the enormous pressures on companies to cut costs."

The commission is headed by John T. Dunlop, a Harvard economist who was secretary of labor in the Ford administration. Most of the nine other members are former labor secretaries or academicians.

Among the proposals the commission is considering are steps that would make forming a union easier or would force binding arbitration on management in labor disputes. To make such recommendations easier for corporate America to accept, the commission will issue only "findings of fact" in May.

"The important thing is to draw a line between the process of finding facts and the process of what to do about them," Dunlop said. "I want people to be able to say these facts are right or wrong or they need to be amended, and then after the nation has confronted the facts, we can come up with solutions."

One finding of fact already decided upon, commission members say, concerns the fate of workers engaged in trying to organize a union. …