February 2010

From the Officers
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Which Way for the Republicans?

In late January, the media took a break from covering the tragic events in Haiti to focus on the election in Massachusetts to replace Sen. Ted Kennedy.

A little-known Republican state senator, Scott Brown, traveled the state in a pickup truck saying that he would go to Washington to represent average citizens, tens of thousands of whom are unemployed or worried about losing their jobs. While Brown burned gas and shoe leather, his Democratic opponent, Mass. Attorney General Martha Coakley, appeared aloof from the pain of working families.

If past traditions hold, more Scott Browns can be expected to win office in November as Americans who are anguished or angry about the state of the U.S. economy head to the polls and vote against the party in power, the Democrats.

But the very reversal of fortune for many Democrats shows that the day of reckoning will come soon for Scott Brown and others who ride this wave into Congress.

There are two ways to go. Brown can choose to rubber stamp his Republican leaders in Congress by saying "No!" to every meaningful proposal that the Democrats bring to the floor or proposing that all of the complex problems facing our nation can be solved by lowering taxes or just yelling about "big government."

But if Brown truly wants to be a man of the people, those approaches just won't work. Americans need problem-solvers in high offices, not blowhards. Brown should take some cues from the man he replaced.

Sen. Ted Kennedy was often taken over the coals by Democrats for compromising with Republicans. But he continued to be re-elected and was cherished by millions because he knew how to get results.

If the new senator truly wants to represent working families, he won't follow his leaders into opposing all legislation to make health care more accessible and affordable. And he won't stand in the way of reforming our nation's labor laws to establish a more level playing field between workers and employers.

Overnight, Sen. Scott Brown is a powerful man with choices that few others have. What will he make of them?

Edwin D. Hill
International President

A Labor Secretary Who Fights for Workers

Continuing high unemployment and the slow pace of reform on Capitol Hill have caused some to get impatient for change that would make a real difference for working families.

On at least one front, however, the Obama administration has made some genuine progress in the last year.

Labor Secretary Hilda Solis has turned around a department that under the Bush administration viewed labor law as a joke and routinely ignored health and safety violations, and returned it to its mission of enforcing safety and health regulations and standing up for workers' rights.

Let's look at Secretary Solis' record so far:

  • Mining deaths fell to an all-time low in 2009, thanks to tough enforcement of mine safety laws. Compare that with the Bush administration, which failed to issue more than 4,000 fines for recorded safety violations.

  • Solis recently announced that she is hiring 250 new investigators for the department's wage-and-hour division to crack down on employers who violate minimum wage and overtime regulations.

  • All government contractors are now required to publicly post notices listing employee rights under federal labor law.

  • A new initiative by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to update safety standards in the construction industry to reduce the number of injuries and fatalities in the field

  • The promise of 90 new safety regulations in the coming year and stiffer fines for law-breakers

And as you can read in this issue, Solis is strongly committed to supporting union training partnerships in the growing green-energy industry, issuing $100 million in renewable energy grants that will create good, green jobs.

While most of this has flown under the media's radar, these actions make a real difference in our members' lives and in the lives of working people throughout the country. Despite our many frustrations with Washington, it is satisfying to finally have a labor secretary who is willing to stand up for the rights of the workers and looks at organized labor as a partner, not an adversary.

Lindell K. Lee
International Secretary-Treasurer