The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, June 09, 2006

Who supports labor? Here's the perfect test…

By The Building Tradesman

A point of view by Press Associates

If the Radical Right can have its "litmus test" for judicial nominees, why can't we have one for congressional candidates?

In that spirit, here is a first example: The Senate voted on a labor rights amendment on May 23. The amendment, by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), lost in the GOP-run Senate, 57-40. Remember that, and remember Republicans own the Senate, 55-45.

Kennedy's amendment, which he also tried to attach to the immigration bill the Senate passed on May 25, would have brought undocumented workers under U.S. labor laws.

It also would have drastically increased fines on employers who break job safety and health laws and wage and hour laws, and imposed criminal penalties - five years in jail - for any employer whose "willful" violation of federal job safety and health standards leads to a worker's death on the job.

And it would have made it easier for workers to go to court and get judges to order employers to stop labor law-breaking, notably the rampant illegal firing and harassment of pro-union workers and union organizers.

Kennedy noted his amendment would not just help the undocumented workers by bringing them out of the shadows and under protection of labor law, overturning a Supreme Court decision, but it would also have helped native workers. That's because venal and vicious employers use the threat of importing undocumented workers to force the native workers to accept lower wages and lousy working conditions.

We don't know how much lobbying Kennedy, or unions, did for his amendment beforehand. Let's assume there was little, because that makes the vote even clearer: It shows the present minimum number of senators workers can count on - and which political party they belong to.

And it also shows the stance of all senators who various pundits say are pondering runs for the White House in 2008, and all who seek re-election this year.

With those elections in mind, here are the results:

  • Every Republican voting, including all mentioned for the presidency in 2008 - George Allen (Va.), Sam Brownback (Kansas), Majority Leader William Frist (Tenn.), Chuck Hagel (Neb.), front-runner John McCain (Ariz.), and GOP conference chairman Rick Santorum (Pa.) - opposed Kennedy's amendment, and working men and women. Democrats Ben Nelson (Neb.), Herbert Kohl (Wis.) and Max Baucus (Mont.) also voted against the pro-worker amendment.
  • Every Democrat mentioned as a potential presidential contender in 2008 - including 2004 nominee John Kerry (Mass.), Evan Bayh (Ind.), Joseph Biden (Del.), Hillary Clinton (N.Y.), Russ Feingold, (Wis.) and, now, Chris Dodd (Conn.) - voted for the amendment, and workers. Michigan Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Carl Levin also voted for the amendment. Every so often, a vote takes place in Congress that clearly draws the line showing who sides with Big Business, and who supports working men and women.