Labor Dept. to force firms to disclose union-busting tactics

Published on People’s World, by John Wojcik, December 21, 2009.

Among at least 20 new rules President Obama’s Labor Department plans to introduce in the new year is one that would require companies to file financial disclosures on their union-busting activity.

In a series of web chats over the last few weeks, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis has been pledging that 2010 will be a year in which her agency steps up what is already regarded as a strong effort by the department to go to bat for workers. 

Solis is saying, in those web chats, that the efforts will involve not just new rules but stronger enforcement. To that end, the Labor Department is hiring 100 additional inspectors.

“The department’s emphasis will be on green jobs, on more enforcement, protection of workers, and helping returning veterans receive employment assistance and job training,” the Secretary of Labor says in one message, “but, in addition, we have 22 new regulatory items on the agenda.”

Forcing companies to make more disclosures regarding their union busting is perhaps, one of the most important changes that the department plans.

Solis notes that companies have actually used loopholes in existing law to avoid such disclosure. “Under the Labor-Management Disclosure Act,” the 1959 GOP-passed Landrum-Griffin law, “an employer must report an agreement with a consultant hired to persuade employees as to their collective bargaining rights,” Solis said.

The law allows employers, however, an exemption if the consultants are merely “advising” the employers on these matters. Solis says, “The exemption is overly broad because indirect efforts to persuade are considered ‘advice’ and are not reportable under the current interpretation of the exemption” … //

… To make it easier, “because workers are fearful of losing their jobs in this economy and therefore less likely to file complaints when they are cheated,” Leppink said complaints can be filed by third parties, “as long as the third party has sufficient information to indicate a probable violation.The third party complainant can call the Wage and Hour office or the toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE.”

Still another new regulation the department plans is one that orders coal mines to reduce miners’ exposure to coal dust, a documented cause of “black lung” and other diseases.

The present rule, setting a limit of 2 mg. of coal dust per cubic meter of air, was set in 1972. A 1995 federal study, which the Bush administration never acted on, called for a lower limit and listed proposed tougher enforcement actions. (full text).

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