The Legacy Of “The Dragon Lady” Lives On

March 25, 2009

bush_chao_ap02051704135The following story appeared in the New York Times today…

In a report scheduled to be released Wednesday, the Government Accountability Office found that…the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division had mishandled 9 of the 10 cases brought by a team of undercover agents posing as aggrieved workers.

In one case, the division failed to investigate a complaint that under-age children in Modesto, Calif., were working during school hours at a meatpacking plant with dangerous machinery, the G.A.O., the nonpartisan auditing arm of Congress, found.

When an undercover agent posing as a dishwasher called four times to complain about not being paid overtime for 19 weeks, the division’s office in Miami failed to return his calls for four months, and when it did, the report said, an official told him it would take 8 to 10 months to begin investigating his case.

“This investigation clearly shows that Labor has left thousands of actual victims of wage theft who sought federal government assistance with nowhere to turn,” the report said. “Unfortunately, far too often the result is unscrupulous employers’ taking advantage of our country’s low-wage workers.”

I, among many others, have pointed out the fraud committed by Bushco’s former Labor Secretary at the expense of our workforce, and this is definitely not the first time a G.A.O. report has identified Chao’s negligence (this tells us that they found much the same story last July – one case ignored by Chao’s Wage and Hour Division involved disabled children who were allegedly being paid cash by a trucking company to operate large machinery in violation of child-labor laws; the official story is that investigators for the division could not locate the employer, though “(t)he G.A.O. had little trouble finding a company that appears to be the one cited in the complaint”).

And Dem U.S. House Rep George Miller reiterates below in a column written last September…

Chao went on to severely weaken the department’s Wage and Hour Division — which enforces overtime, minimum wage, and child labor laws. Wage theft has skyrocketed at the hands of this administration: An ongoing U.S. Government Accountability Office investigation has uncovered repeated cases where the agency refused to go after scofflaw employers who admittedly owed their workers back wages.

So what does Chao have to say? As noted in today’s story…

…(Chao) often defended the Wage and Hour Division, saying it had concentrated on larger, tougher cases, and secured back wages for more than 300,000 workers a year and collected more than twice as much annually as the division had done in the final years of the Clinton administration.

As the Times tells us here, “the record collection of back wages is a result of companies’ rushing to settle with her department to reduce the likelihood of facing large amounts of damages awarded by juries in private lawsuits.”

And this tells us how then-Illinois Senator Barack Obama sent a letter to Chao in an effort to get her department to “address her department’s mishandling of overtime and minimum-wage complaints and to instigate investigations into hundreds of additional cases” – we also learn the following from here…

Even so, as the AFL-CIO’s general counsel, Jon Hiatt, observes, “My dream is that the first act of the new Secretary of Labor would be to identify top executives of companies that routinely violate wages and hours laws — and take them out of their offices in handcuffs. The deterrent value would be enormous.” In the 1930s, he points out, FDR’s War Labor Board pursued the prosecution of the top executive of the Montgomery Ward company for refusing to recognize a union — and he was indeed photographed being dragged from his office in handcuffs.

Among other things, this makes it more imperative than ever that we keep trying to convince our elected representatives to pass the Employee Free Choice Act, despite the recent “cave” from Snarlin’ Arlen. New Labor Secretary Hilda Solis has barely had any time on the job at all, and I can only imagine what she’ll have to clean up (she certainly deserves the benefit of the doubt for now), but the EFCA signed into law will make it awfully difficult for characters like Chao to come along in the future and pull the same nonsense all over again.

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