• Fri. Dec 4th, 2020

Wednesday Night Owls. Trump's Labor Secretary Scalia is devoted to weakening worker protections

ByAdiantku

Oct 22, 2020

Night Owls, a themed open thread, appears at Daily Kos seven days a week

At The New Yorker, Eyal Press writes—Trump’s Labor Secretary Is a Wrecking Ball Aimed at Workers:

[…] Since Donald Trump entered politics, he has surrounded himself with grifters and figures of gross incompetence. [Labor Secretary Eugene] Scalia is part of a smaller cohort: distinguished conservatives who have joined the Administration to advance their own ideological goals. A graduate of the University of Chicago Law School, where he edited the law review, and a partner at the white-shoe firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, where he has specialized in labor-and-employment law and administrative law, Scalia has an intellectual pedigree that most members of Trump’s inner circle lack. Temperamentally, he has little in common with the bombastic President. Yet, like virtually everyone in the Republican Party, Scalia has chosen to view this Administration chiefly in opportunistic terms. His longtime agenda has been curtailing government, and at the Labor Department he has overseen the rewriting of dozens of rules that were put in place to protect workers. As the coronavirus has overrun America, Scalia’s impulse has been to grant companies leeway rather than to demand strict enforcement of safety protocols.

Put Democrats in charge of the Senate and put a big smile on your face November 3.

On April 28th, Richard Trumka, the president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., sent Scalia a letter accusing the Department of Labor of forsaking its mission. Even as millions of workers were risking their health to perform jobs deemed essential, OSHA had done little more than issue a modest list of voluntary safety guidelines. Trumka demanded that Scalia impose emergency temporary standards that would require companies to follow specific rules to slow the spread of COVID-19, such as providing employees with personal protective equipment and adhering to social-distancing guidelines established by the Centers for Disease Control.

Scalia’s response was polite but unyielding. “Correspondence such as yours can help us do our jobs better,” he began, but then insisted that Trumka’s complaints were riddled with “basic misunderstandings.” Imposing emergency temporary standards was unnecessary, Scalia wrote, because OSHA already had the authority to penalize irresponsible companies under the General Duty Clause, which requires employers to create an environment “free from recognized hazards.” This was the basis for OSHA’s actions against SeaWorld in 2010—notwithstanding the objections Scalia lodged at the time, which were so strenuous that Judge [ Judith W.] Rogers asked him at one point if he believed that “the agency, under the General Duty Clause, has no role to play.” The clause has played little role lately, Trumka told me. Since the pandemic began, OSHA has received more than ten thousand complaints alleging unsafe conditions related to the virus. It has issued just two citations under the General Duty Clause.

The pandemic likely would have overwhelmed OSHA no matter who was running the Department of Labor. Founded in 1970, OSHA has a budget less than a tenth the size of the Environmental Protection Agency’s. Limited resources, meek penalties, and fierce opposition from business interests have long inhibited OSHA’s ability to address the unsafe conditions that lead to the deaths of some five thousand workers on the job annually, with injuries sustained by nearly three million more.

Nevertheless, there are ways OSHA can let companies know that willfully violating the law has serious consequences. One of these methods is negative publicity. In 2014, after four workers at a DuPont facility in Texas were exposed to carbon monoxide and died from suffocation, David Michaels, who directed OSHA under Barack Obama, declared, “Nothing can bring these workers back to their loved ones. . . . We here at OSHA want DuPont and the chemical industry as a whole to hear this message loud and clear.” The statement was part of an initiative, launched under Obama, to shine a light on companies that behaved recklessly. According to Matthew Johnson, a Duke economist and the author of “Regulation by Shaming,” a study of the policy’s deterrent effects, such messages targeted at local media and trade publications led to a thirty-per-cent reduction in violations at nearby facilities in the same industry. […]

TOP COMMENTS

QUOTATION

“It is forbidden to kill; therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets.” ~~VoltaireQuestions sur l’Encyclopédie (1770-1774)

TWEET OF THE DAY

The news has barely mentioned it, but Big Pharma company Gilead is charging $3,000 for a coronavirus drug that costs them less than $10 to produce. Once again, they’re set to profit on the people’s dime.

— Robert Reich (@RBReich) October 21, 2020

BLAST FROM THE PAST

At Daily Kos on this date in 2013—Bush not Cheney’s puppet, Peter Baker’s new book says. Iraq invasion done to kick ‘somebody’s ass’:

For more than a decade, ever since Dick Cheney used his assignment to select a vice presidential candidate for George W. Bush to pick himself, the conventional wisdom has been that the former secretary of defense and former CEO of Halliburton pulled Bush’s strings. In 2008, for example, Barton Gellman and Jo Becker of the Washington Post won a Pulitzer prize for their four-part 2007 series—Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency that reinforced the view of Bush as willing and weak-willed marionette.

Peter Baker’s 650-page new book—Days of Fire: Bush and Cheney in the White House—presents a different view of the relationship between Bush and Cheney. Baker, who covered the Bush administration first for The Washington Post and subsequently The New York Times (where he is now chief White House correspondent), agrees that Cheney was the “most powerful vice president” of modern times. But he does not present George Bush as second-in-command to the imperious Cheney […]

As one senior official who came to rue his involvement in Iraq put it, “The only reason we went into Iraq, I tell people now, is we were looking for somebody’s ass to kick. Afghanistan was too easy.”

That may well be the unnamed senior adviser’s perspective, but this we-did-Iraq-to-prove-our-manhood assertion doesn’t mesh well with the reality of the Iraq invasion that other Bush White House insiders—such as former Secretary of the Treasury Paul O’Neill—have confirmed was on the agenda in January 2001. The September 11 assaults on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were a convenient excuse for pinning something on Saddam Hussein, even though he had nothing to do it.

It wasn’t just “somebody’s ass.” Hussein’s Iraq was a specific target of the neo-conservative Project for a New American Century long before Cheney, one of its charter members, even considered running for vice president. While Cheney and Bush may well have been at odds, that wasn’t enough to stop slaughter in Iraq, torture everywhere, a legacy of tens of thousands of brain-damaged American veterans, plus a $3 trillion-plus hole in the Treasury.  

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