Confirmation Questions for Linda Chavez
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RAY SUAREZ: And with me are two people who study labor issues and are closely watching the Chavez nomination: Michael Baroody of the National Association of Manufacturers, a business lobbying organization. He was an assistant labor secretary in the Reagan and Bush administrations. And Greg Tarpinian of the Labor Research Association, a think tank that conducts research on behalf of labor unions. Greg Tarpinian, what are your objections to the Chavez nomination?
GREG TARPINIAN: Well it’s certainly not that she’s incompetent or she’s not bright. It’s just that she’s not fit for this position. Before the situation of the undocumented worker in her home, her positions on the minimum wage, her positions on overtime laws, her position against the Americans with Disabilities Act, her position stating that there was no gender discrimination in the workplace, these are anathema to the position of somebody who is going to hold that high office as Secretary of Labor who is supposed to enforce our labor laws. She is bright. She is articulate. Unfortunately, she is not qualified for this position.
RAY SUAREZ: Michael Baroody?
MICHAEL BAROODY: Well, Greg has not described the woman I just saw in the clips in your set-up piece. This is admittedly a very bright person; we agree on that. But I think what we heard from Linda in those clips was some very thoughtful statements of things that aren’t orthodox, liberal labor views about policy. They are the views of somebody who has thought about these issues a lot over the last 20 years and thinks just maybe, as a lot of us think, that we need to bring labor law into the 21st century.
GREG TARPINIAN: Well, labor law into the 21st century does not mean bringing it back to the 19th century. People fought and died for minimum-wage laws. They fought and died for a 40- hour workweek. I think the most telling clip of Miss Chavez when she said the issue with Zoe Baird was not that she didn’t pay into Social Security; it’s that she had an illegal alien. Those were her terms.
MICHAEL BAROODY: In her employ, Greg. That’s the important distinction.
GREG TARPINIAN: Where I come from, when you work and you’re paid, you’re in somebody’s employ. When I invite somebody to stay at my house, whether it’s out of charity or something else, I don’t pay them to wash the dishes.
MICHAEL BAROODY: And that’s not what went on here. Let’s first talk about the fact that Linda Chavez is not proposing an end to the minimum wage. In the clip that I saw, she was urging caution on raising the minimum wage on how and where to do it. Let me make a point on that. We’re at 4 percent unemployment, the lowest unemployment rate we’ve had in years in this country, but it doesn’t mean we’re not without employment challenges, which Linda is very sensitive to. And the biggest employment challenge we’ve got right now is the people we are encouraging to move from welfare to work. If we excessively raise the minimum wage, we may price some of those people out of exactly the entry-level jobs they need to move into the world of work and the world of self-responsibility. So I don’t think you can paint her as some 19th century thinker on this. She’s a 21st century thinker.
RAY SUAREZ: Maybe we can stipulate that not all the facts are in and we don’t necessarily, I think the three of us, know all the facts concerning illegal immigrant who was living in her home….
GREG TARPINIAN: We know that her writings have, in fact, said that the minimum-wage law is an impediment to the labor market. That is… That’s just a position that 90 percent of the American people are opposed to.
MICHAEL BAROODY: The issue that’s drawn not is not the minimum wage law but whether and when to increase it. I think an awful lot of hyperbolic statements are being thrown around. What I was struck with in the setup piece was this language of “indentured servitude.” When I have guests in my home, they will very often help out clearing the table after the meal I’ve served them. There is no evidence that this woman was brought into Linda Chavez’s home for any reason other than Linda… As the woman herself said, Linda’s own compassion for the circumstance that the woman found herself in. And being subject to Linda’s hospitality, she helped out around the house.
RAY SUAREZ: What about Mr. Tarpinian’s other point which is that it’s unusual to hear a nominee for Secretary of Labor who has been widely quoted as having questions about raising the minimum wage, paycheck protection which would make it hard for unions to… denying the existence in her column of a glass ceiling for women in the workplace? Are these unusual things for….
MICHAEL BAROODY: Let’s take the first one. I served proudly three secretaries of labor: Bill Brock, Ann McLaughlin and Elizabeth Dole. None of them were enthusiastic about increases to the minimum wage.
GREG TARPINIAN: None of them were right wing ideologues either, Mr. Baroody. That’s what we’re dealing with Ms. Chavez.
MICHAEL BAROODY: This seems to be what it boils down. We can praise diversity in the abstract but apparently we don’t mean diversity. We mean uniformity in the approach to labor policy.
GREG TARPINIAN: There’s plenty of Republicans out there that George Bush could have selected as Labor Secretary, many that the labor movement would have gladly shook hands with. This is not one of them. Miss Chavez is simply not fit to be head of the labor department. That’s bottom line.
RAY SUAREZ: But, Mr. Tarpinian, when she was nominated she said she would support and oversee the enforcement of labor laws as they are currently on the books. Do you doubt her word?
GREG TARPINIAN: I believe she also said that when she was appointed to head the Civil Rights Commission. After that appointment, she called for the abolition of the very commission she was appointed to. She said the glass ceiling doesn’t exist, but the Labor Department has a glass ceiling commission. Will she abolish the glass ceiling commission? Most American female workers know there’s a glass ceiling. It’s apparent. For somebody to apply an ideological standard to these issues is absolutely unwarranted.
MICHAEL BAROODY: We seem to be doubting her word. My recollection is when you are confirmed by the Senate to a position advanced by the President, they ask you to raise one hand and put the other hand on a book. And one swears to uphold the law. If Greg is suggesting that we cannot… that we have to doubt her word on that, then I think there’s no possibility of conversation here. She is an honorable person. She just diverges from the labor orthodoxy. That’s all.
GREG TARPINIAN: I’m suggesting there’s degrees of enforcement. There are ways to enforce a law. There are degrees of aggressiveness in enforcing that law. And one thing we can expect from Linda Chavez as Secretary of Labor, those laws where you can look the other way, she will look the other way.
MICHAEL BAROODY: Well, for eight years it is true that organized labor has had a friend in the Labor Department. This has been a very friendly administration to AFL-CIO; the best most recent example is the ergonomics rule that they rushed out. You can’t get a rule out that fast that that’s big and do it right. And the question arises by people like myself whether that is properly understood health and safety rule or an effort by the Department to keep a promise that was made to the AFL-CIO’s executive council a couple of years ago. I think it was the latter.
RAY SUAREZ: Mr. Tarpinian, please.
MICHAEL BAROODY: It’s understandable that they don’t want to see their close relationship– that kind of a relationship with the Labor Department — go away.
RAY SUAREZ: Now quickly, Mr. Tarpinian, how does who is Secretary of Labor make a difference when it comes to something like the new workplace rules concerning repetitive motion?
GREG TARPINIAN: It absolutely makes a difference. The AFL-CIO does not expect George W. Bush to appoint that they okay. What they expect is somebody who may be compassionate and conservative from George W. Bush. They don’t expect somebody whose basic position is to unravel America’s labor laws that protect the most lowly among us, the people that earn the least, the people that are the most exploited, the people that Miss Chavez claims to, through charity, bring into her home. The reality of the matter is that we need a labor secretary that is truly compassionate, and that means matching words with deeds.
RAY SUAREZ: Greg Tarpinian, Michael Baroody, thank you both.