Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Kennedy Looms Large on Senate Labor Committee, U.S. Workplace

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Kennedy Looms Large on Senate Labor Committee, U.S. Workplace

Article excerpt

You may love what he stands for, you may loathe it, or he may leave you indifferent - though that's less likely - but whatever your view of Ted Kennedy, there's no getting around his impact on the Senate Labor Committee.

The veteran Democrat from Massachusetts looms large over legislation governing labor-management relations and life on the job, even though he belongs to the out-of-power party in Congress.

The last few weeks have been hectic ones for the Labor Committee, which is considering measures that would alter some basic rules affecting workers and managers and how they interact. As ranking minority committee member, Kennedy plays second fiddle to Chairman Jim Jeffords, R-Vt., but Kennedy has shown in early hearings why the AFL-CIO spent $35 million in November's election trying vainly to put him, perhaps more than any other Senate Democrat, in a position of authority. The two current major bills would let management set up groups of workers to discuss various workplace matters, and would modify the 40-hour work week to allow more flexible schedules and the granting of compensatory time off instead of money for overtime work. Organized labor vigorously opposes both bills, written largely by Missouri Republican John Ashcroft, and Kennedy has done his utmost to make labor's case over the last month. At times, he's played to the audience in the committee room, waxing indignant about the grave injustices to be visited upon America's working men and women should the Republican plans become law. He warns that abusive employers could turn up the pressure on workers trying to eke out a living to support their families. Mocking the notion that these are pro-employee bills, he says with sarcasm, "Tell me workers can't wait for this. . . . Are you kidding?" Other times, he skillfully uses the quorum rules, preventing discussion or votes when the number of senators present dips below the required 10, and making sure no Democrats can be located to help out. His omnipresent staff slips him notes and documents at just the right moments to buttress his point or add a nuance. From time to time, he'll turn downright intransigent, reminding people subtly of the legacy he represents and asserting that despite what the chairman just said, "That's not the way we're going to do business. …

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