After decades spent attacking the rights of workers struggling for justice and safety on the job, corporate lawyer Eugene Scalia has been confirmed as the new head of the U.S. Department of Labor.
The new labor secretary, son of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, sailed through a GOP-controlled hearing last week despite strong opposition from Democrats and was confirmed Thursday by the full Senate on a 53-44 party-line vote.
“If there's one consistent pattern in Mr. Scalia's long career, it’s hostility to the very workers he would be charged with protecting, and the very laws he would be charged with enforcing if he were confirmed,” Washington Sen. Patty Murray, ranking member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said during the Sept. 19 hearing.
The HELP committee voted 12-11 along party lines Tuesday to advance Scalia’s nomination to the full Senate, and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell rushed a floor vote before senators were set to leave on a two-week break Friday.
“Although we oppose Mr. Scalia’s confirmation in the strongest possible terms, we are committed to working with him and Department of Labor staff, as always, in the best interests of our members and all workers,” International President Lonnie R. Stephenson said. “At the same time, we have no illusions about how difficult that is at a time when federal agencies, boards and the courts are increasingly stacked against working people.”
A partner at Washington, D.C.-based Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, Scalia built a reputation for helping business clients run roughshod over employees. Early in his career he led the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s battle against ergonomic rules in the late 1990s.
The DOL spent years developing the rules to reduce crippling injuries and illnesses brought on by repetitive motion at poorly designed worksites, from poultry plants and assembly lines to call centers.
“Scalia ridiculed the extensive science underlying the rules as ‘junk science; and ‘quackery’ and suggested that unions supported the rules as a ploy to increase membership,” the Economic Policy Institute reported in a summary of Scalia’s key cases.
His views opposing worker health and safety protections were considered so extreme that senators blocked his 2001 nomination to serve as U.S. solicitor of labor, the official charged with enforcing the nation’s labor laws. Scalia got the job anyway, serving temporarily after President George W. Bush installed him through a recess appointment.
Scalia’s anti-worker résumé also includes:
- Fighting rules opposed by delivery company UPS that would have required employers to pay for their workers’ protective safety equipment.
- Getting the Nevada Supreme Court to overturn a lower court ruling that let casino workers keep their tips instead of sharing them with supervisors.
- Unsuccessfully fighting OSHA charges against SeaWorld after a whale killed its trainer during a performance.
- Prevailing for Wal-Mart against a Maryland law requiring that companies with more than 10,000 employees make small contributions toward their workers’ health care.
|U.S. Labor Secretary nominee Eugene Scalia, who has spent his career fighting workers’ rights and safety regulations, testifies at his confirmation hearing Sept. 19.
More broadly, Scalia has a long history undermining the economic security of workers and consumers by helping Wall Street fight financial oversight.
“His advocacy has come at the expense of investors, consumers, the entire financial system, and all hardworking Americans and taxpayers, who had to bail out Wall Street during the 2008 crash,” the organization Better Markets said. “The financial system today is more fragile and financial crashes are more likely as a result of the clients he chose, the arguments he advanced, and the tactics he used.”
The AFL-CIO was more blunt, suggesting the appeal of Scalia’s qualifications to a Senate majority that values corporations over people:
“After spending a lifetime attacking the rights and dignity of working people, Scalia is ready for another chance to ruthlessly advance corporate interests. His specialties include eroding labor rights, unraveling consumer protections, endangering Americans’ retirement security and blaming workers for their own deaths.”