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Workers' Rights: Candidates' Records As Different as Night and Day

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If November's election boiled down to the candidates' records on workers' rights, even the White House's most shameless spin doctors would have trouble making a case for George W. Bush.

When it comes to unions, employee rights, job safety and bottom-line paycheck issues, labor leaders and other working family advocates say Bush's anti-worker agenda is unprecedented.

"George Bush has shut organized labor out of his administration like no other president before him," CWA President Morton Bahr said, speaking at the annual convention. "No other administration in my adult lifetime has held such contempt for workers and their unions while giving unfettered access to corporations."

Spurred by Bush's contempt for workers, the National Labor Relations Board has turned its 1935 creators' intent - to encourage the practice and procedures of collective bargaining - on its head.

Today, the Bush-appointed Republican majority on the NLRB is letting workers' unfair labor practice complaints pile up against recalcitrant employers who have learned that there are no serious consequences for intimidating, threatening and firing workers. Meanwhile, the board has agreed to review a case that could effectively end card-check organizing, the most efficient way to protect workers' rights and give them a voice on the job.

The board's balance of power would change if Kerry - a strong card-check supporter - is elected, giving workers a fighting chance if the case is heard after the election.

Kerry, who has often walked picket lines with strikers but never crossed one, has fought for workers for 20 years in the U.S. Senate, from battling to raise the minimum wage to protecting workers' from ergonomic injuries to co-sponsoring the original Family and Medical Leave Act.

FMLA has given millions of American workers the chance to take time off for the birth of a child or to care for ailing family members. The Bush administration and its GOP allies want try to weaken the law, while Kerry's goal is to expand it to
help more Americans balance the needs of work and family.

"John Kerry isn't just talking about these issues on the campaign trail. He's spent his entire career fighting for them," Bahr said. "He's someone with genuine compassion and concern for working Americans, who have had four years of nothing but lip service from the Bush administration."

The assault on overtime is the best-known example of the Bush animus toward workers, but only because CWA and other labor unions made so much noise that the media finally paid attention. For months, the Department of Labor secretly worked on overhauling the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act, proposing changes that would strip millions of workers of their overtime rights.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers led the business lobby's push for the changes, hoping to give employers the right to force workers to put in more 40 hours a week without being paid anything extra.

Despite economists' reports on the hardships millions of workers would face, the Bush administration routinely denied the facts. Instead, the White House boasted about the far smaller number of workers who would benefit from the changes - low-wage supervisors and managers who now will be eligible for overtime if they make less than $23,660 a year.

A revised version of the rules, reflecting some of their critics' concerns, went into effect Aug. 23. But economists project that at least 6 million workers still stand to lose their overtime rights. Democrats and moderate Republicans in Congress have voted to overturn the rules - except for the part helping low-wage workers - via an amendment to a budget bill. President Bush has threatened to veto the bill if the overtime rights are included, holding up $142 million for labor, education and health and human services.

Here are some of the other ways that Bush has targeted workers:
  • The first bill he signed revoked the workplace ergonomics rule adopted at the end of the Clinton administration after 10 years of bipartisan work and scientific study, which aimed to prevent many of the 1.8 million disabling ergonomic injuries workers suffer each year. He ignored evidence that business would ultimately save $9 billion through increased productivity and fewer sick days, twice the cost of implementing the rules.

  • Less than a month after taking office, he issued four major anti-union orders banning project labor agreements on federal construction projects, requiring contractors to post anti-union notices, ending labor-management partnerships and revoking a job security policy for service industry workers contracting with the government.

  • He has consistently opposed raising the minimum wage and supported measures allowing states to opt out of any increase, should Congress pass one.

  • He has sharply cut spending at the Department of Labor, through cuts in unemployment benefits, wage and hour enforcement and worker safety grants.