WHILE THE NATION'S ATTENTION IS riveted by the inexorable march to war against Iraq, the Bush administration has quietly opened a new front in the relentless, largely covert war it has been waging here at home against U.S. workers and their labor unions.
In December the Labor Department issued new union reporting regulations, which would require itemization of every expense greater than $2,000 spent on organizing and strike services, lobbying or political activities. This is an administrative nightmare that would cost unions many millions. The administration indicated that it would ask the Republican Congress to pass civil penalties for unions that don't meet reporting deadlines. George W. Bush's budget, unveiled in early February, cut money for enforcing workplace health and safety laws, and for investigating corporate violations of minimum wage, Family and Medical Leave mandates, and child-labor laws. But Bush dramatically increased the budget for auditing and investigating labor unions.
An assistant labor secretary expressed concern for "financial transparence" in labor unions. But as AFL-CIO General Counsel John Hiatt noted, "We're talking about an administration that opposes regulation on air quality, water quality, on forests, on food safety, on repetitive-stress injuries in the workplace ... but when it comes to unions, requiring them to itemize every expense, that doesn't seem to trouble this ad ministration at all." Clearly the White House is ramping up an effort to ensnare unions in legal aggravations in time for the 2004 election campaign.
This latest maneuver is but a skirmish in an offensive that Bush has waged directly against trade unions--and against workers--since he came to office. It is a war of indirection and disinformation, of ambush and frontal assault, all designed to weaken unions, reduce their membership, sap their resources and energy, and limit their ability to oppose the administration and its corporate allies.
Bush showed his hand immediately upon taking office. In one of his first acts, he killed the Clinton regulation that required federal agencies to consider companies' records of compliance with the law--including their adherence to labor laws--in awarding federal contracts. Bush then issued four anti-union, anti-worker executive orders. He abolished labor-management partnerships in federal agencies aimed at improving productivity and working conditions, barred automatic union-recognition agreements on federal construction projects and required contractors to inform employees that they needn't join a union without telling them of their right to join one (an order recently overturned by a federal judge for violating the National Labor Relations Act). He followed this by preventing mechanics from striking at Northwest Airlines and United Airlines. As Ronald Reagan did when he busted the air traffic controllers, Bush was serving notice to employers that it was open season on labor.
IN THE WAKE OF SEPTEMBER 11, BUSH launched a frontal attack on public-sector unions. The administration stalled passage of the homeland-security bill, demanding the right to strip the 170,000 workers in the new department of both their collective-bargaining rights and civil-service protections. Even as the nation was still celebrating the heroics of unionized police, firefighters and rescue workers who gave their lives to save others on 9-11, the president was implying that unions posed a national-security risk in the new department. In the election campaign, the president impugned the patriotism of Democrats who opposed this indignity. When the president got his bill after the elections, the Transportation Security Administration issued orders denying collective-bargaining rights for the 56,000 newly federalized airport screeners.
Right after the November elections, Bush announced plans to accelerate the contracting out of federal work to private companies, putting the jobs of some 850,000 federal employees at risk. …