Organized labor, masters of aggressive politics, had its share of triumphs in 2010. With Democrats, their natural ally, the previous year having taken control of the White House and the Senate while increasing their advantage in the House, this was to be expected. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and other union officials used their window of opportunity to pressure Congress into passing a health care overhaul mandating unprecedented degrees of government intrusion, and by extension, major opportunities for unionization of the health care labor force. They also secured key presidential appointments.
If Department of Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and Solicitor M. Patricia Smith are pushing the limits of radical advocacy, Leon Rodriguez might just be the person to push them further. Rodriguez, for nearly a year the chief of staff at the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, is President Obama's presumptive nominee for administrator of DOL's Wage and Hour Division. The president announced on December 2 his intent to name him to the long-vacant post. But like the previous (unsuccessful) nominee, Lorelei Boylan, Rodriguez, an experienced prosecutor, has an expressed belief that what counts is equality of result, not equality under the law - even if employers have to pay the toll. If Obama is genuine about his recently stated desire to promote business development, he should find another candidate.
When Department of Labor Solicitor M. Patricia "Trisha" Smith testified at a Senate confirmation hearing more than a year and a half ago, her track record as New York State Commissioner of Labor, and her comments about it, prompted leading Republicans to postpone action for several months. Their fears in hindsight appear well-founded. An article appearing in last Friday's Wall Street Journal reported that DOL staff, under Smith's supervision, a couple months earlier had issued a draft "operating plan" to dramatically step up enforcement against private-sector employers likely to have committed unfair labor practices. The details of the now-adopted plan indicate Smith, like her boss, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, views the department's relationship with business as necessarily highly adversarial.
If the nomination of pro-union radical Craig Becker for the National Labor Relations Board couldn't survive congressional scrutiny, Obama administration officials are taking heart that another nominee for a major labor policymaking post has passed muster. On Thursday, February 4, the Senate voted 60 to 37 to approve M. Patricia Smith, labor commissioner for the State of New York, as the new solicitor for the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), the department's chief law interpreter-enforcer and third-ranking official. The vote occurred after several months of delay and three days after a 60-32 cloture vote. Certain Republican lawmakers had expressed concerns that she had made deceptive statements back during her May 7 confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.
The Department of Labor (DOL) is one of the prime venues for President Obama's attempt to unite governance and community activism. But he's having an unexpectedly tough time conveying his enthusiasm to the Senate. Nearly four months ago, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee held a hearing on the confirmation of M. Patricia "Trisha" Smith to become the DOL's next solicitor, which is the third highest post in the department behind secretary and deputy secretary. Yet the appointment remains up in the air. That's because Republicans on the committee are concerned Smith may replicate a program she recently initiated as current labor commissioner for the State of New York. Internal memos obtained by GOP committee aides suggest a less than full commitment on her part to enforce the nation's labor laws in an objective manner.
One of the hallmarks of Barack Obama's political career has been his view that the worlds of governance and community activism should blend. By encouraging public office holders to work closely with grass-roots organizers and by hiring some of the more experienced organizers (especially those already with a government background) for federal positions, he believes, our nation can realize long-overdue institutional change. If the president's recent nominations for two key positions with the Department of Labor are any indication, he's making good on his rhetoric. The nominees, M. Patricia "Trisha" Smith and Lorelei Boylan, are outspoken advocates for organized labor. And they're not above using Left-leaning community activists to enforce regulations.
U.S. Attny Jeffrey G. Collins announced further details on the case of convicted embezzler Edward Wiebeck, who was sentenced by Fed. judge Denise Page Hood (U.S.D.C. E.D. MI, Clinton) to a split sentence of 6 months in fed. prison, followed by 6 months of home confinement, three years of supervised release and $32,790.82 in restitution.
Mr. Collins stated that the evidence against Mr. Wiebeck showed that in 1970, Mr. Wiebeck became a member of Laborers Local 503, in Jackson, MI, which was part of the Laborer's International Union of North America. Between 1970 and 1976, he became a member of the Executive Board. In 1976, he was appointed to complete the unexpired term of the outgoing Business Manager. He was elected to the position every three years thereafter until he retired on March 1, 1998.
U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled Oct. 15 that Cal. public school superintendents who deducted agency fees from the paychecks of nonmember teachers are not liable for unions' failure to provide an adequate explanation of the basis for the fee calculation. Reversing summary judgment granted to four teachers, the appeals court held "[a]ction more serious than the routine collection of fees is required" to trigger a public employer's duty to ensure that its employees receive adequate financial disclosure. The court relied on its prior holding that a public employer's duty to ensure proper notice arises when a union takes action against a nonmember for failure to pay agency fees. U.S. Dist. Judge Dean D. Pregerson (C.D. Cal., Clinton), sitting by designation, wrote the opinion, which was joined by U.S. Circuit Judges Procter R. Hug, Jr. (9th Cir., Carter) and Thomas G. Nelson (9th Cir., H.W. Bush).