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By ROBYN BLUMNER
Published December 16, 2007
Don Todd has quite a resume - if you like dirt. In 1996, Todd was called "one of the best mud-slingers and muckrakers in town" by GOP strategists in the Beltway publication The Hill.
In his work for the Republican National Committee, Todd is reportedly the one who discovered that a Massachusetts prison inmate committed a murder after being furloughed, and convinced Lee Atwater to use Willie Horton in an ad against Michael Dukakis in 1988.
Since the late 1970s, Todd has been at the forefront of a Republican attack machine. In 1980, he chaired a group called Anybody but Church that spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to cast aspersions on Democratic Sen. Frank Church of Idaho - the remarkable senior senator who had held the nation's out-of-control intelligence agencies to account.
In a 1999 piece by the Chicago Tribune, Todd was called "the father of opposition research." As then-research director at the National Republican Senatorial Committee, he was described as toiling "in a dim basement office in the Ronald Reagan Republican Center" with a computer screen saver that said "Convict Clinton."
Today, Todd has a different job. Soon after George Bush became president, Todd was tapped to head of the Office of Labor-Management Standards in the U.S. Labor Department.
Why might someone with no depth of experience in government administration or the complexities of union finance be placed at the helm of this agency?
Need we ask?
Organized labor is the bete noire of the Republican Party for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that union members better understand what public policies benefit workers, meaning they are more likely to vote Democratic. The office Todd heads is charged with ensuring that unions act democratically and transparently. It has the power to investigate the internal workings of unions, audit their finances and to implement new reporting rules - even onerous ones.
As documented in a new report, "Beyond Justice," by the Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank, Todd is using these tools to the advantage of his party's antiunion objectives.
The Bush administration, which is so reflexively antagonistic toward regulation, has been pouring additional resources into Todd's regulatory agency. As the CAP report points out, even as inflation-adjusted spending for things like Occupational Safety and Health enforcement is down 8 percent from 2001 levels, Todd's office has grown by 20 percent.
Since Todd took over, new reporting requirements have been instituted (with more to come) that unions say have substantially increased the time and expense involved in compliance, such as turning a 125-page submission into 800 pages.
The object isn't so much to assist union members - who is going to slog through an 800-page report? - but to redirect valuable resources.
None other than hyperpartisan Newt Gingrich sought to use this strategy. As a Republican congressman from Georgia, Gingrich wrote then-Labor Secretary Lynn Martin in 1992 suggesting that increasing OLMS reporting standards would "weaken our opponents and encourage our allies."
The Labor Department disputes the CAP report's implications. A spokesperson says that the office is merely enforcing the law, and that any new reporting requirements are necessary to carry out its mandate of ensuring union transparency and accountability.
But I don't buy it.
I'm as prodisclosure as anyone, and I agree that union members need to be able to see how their dues are spent and that it is up to the government to police union finances. I only expect equal enthusiasm in ensuring that companies don't hire child labor and are paying their employees the minimum wage. Yet spending for those enforcement efforts has declined by 13 percent since 2001.
This administration is all about putting industry insiders and lobbyists into top regulatory posts. States have had to resort to lawsuits just to get President Bush's Environmental Protection Agency to enforce its mandates.
But when it comes to oversight of unions, no friendly back-scratcher was put in charge. The GOP's top mad-dog partisan was handed the reins.
This dovetails with way the National Labor Relations Board has been transformed under Bush. The board is charged with encouraging collective bargaining and protecting workers who want union representation, but the Bush board has been dependably antagonistic to those goals.
It "has issued a slew of antiworker decisions to roll back workers' rights to organize," says Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., chair of the House Education and Labor Committee. And in congressional hearings held Thursday on the NLRB's recent actions, testimony chillingly bore this out.
For America's middle class to regain its footing, unions are going to have to make a resurgence. But with Todd and other Bush appointees doing what they can to stop it, workers will just have to wait for a change of administration.
It can't come soon enough.
[Last modified December 17, 2007, 09:13:26]