Once in awhile we have to give the Republicans and their
Big Business promoters a little credit for a job well done. Sometimes they
pull one off and deserve a little recognition.
The winner for "First Big Anti-Labor Attack of the New
Millennium" has to be the blockbuster corporate punch that landed
simultaneously on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and
our invisible Secretary of Labor, Alexis Herman, regarding "home office
You probably saw it in your local newspaper, or you may have
heard it on one of the dozen or so national daily coast-to-coast anti-labor,
pro-Republican talk radio shows. Word was out: OSHA inspectors were storming
the suburbs, headed for your front door right now, ready to close down your
little home office set-up because the government has nothing better to do.
Beware the Home Office Police!
The Republicans and Big Business had their attack all figured
out. First, grab an issue that might affect a lot of people, like home
offices. Second, pick a slow news day, in this case about 72 hours after all
New Year’s celebrating was done and everyone was back at work. Third, get
ready to lie and exaggerate. Fourth, line up thousands of lobbyists and bosses
to call Congress, the White House, and the news media, complaining about the
dreaded (if fictional) Home Office Police. Finally, hope that your already
weak opponent falls down after the first punch.
Sad to say, that’s just about how the first anti-labor
attack of the New Year came off, practically without a hitch.
The Home Office Police story hit the newspapers on January 4.
And just 48 hours later, I picked up the Washington Post to see banner
front- page headlines: "Labor Chief Retreats on Home Offices — OSHA
Position Drew Criticism." It seems that Secretary of Labor Herman spent
an entire day on the telephone with the White House trying to
"clarify" the situation. By the end of the day an anonymous White
House source was quoted as saying, "They realized there was no clarifying
this, so they yanked it." That was it. Less than two days after getting
hit with a full-blast campaign of lies and exaggeration, the White House and
Secretary of Labor Herman had instructed OSHA to run up the white flag.
"Retreat" was not really the right word. The headline should have
WHAT REALLY HAPPENED ...
This entire fiasco stemmed from an "advisory letter"
that was posted on a Labor Department website back in November. It counseled a
Texas company that if it was going to allow — or force — employees to work
out of their homes, the company would have to take some basic precautions to
make sure that these "home offices" were not dangerous. If the
company did not take a little care, the company could be liable if a home
worker was injured or killed while at work. That was it.
And to add insult to injury, the Clinton administration was
surrendering on an issue it wasn’t even doing much about. There are no Home
Office Police and there were never any plans to create any. It’s all just a
case of some poor OSHA staffers trying to enforce the law who went berserk and
asked a Texas company to keep the health and safety of their telecommuters in
mind or else risk getting sued.
In fact, we really should keep our telecommuting friends and
relatives in mind. A safety consultant for a Fortune 500 company recently
conducted low-level safety checks of their 250 telecommuters and found some to
be working in less than ideal conditions. In his opinion, some of the home
offices were "grossly unsafe," complete with massive fire,
ventilation, and ergonomic hazards.
So the Home Office Police fiasco goes into the anti-labor
history books. But as sadly comical as this episode has been, let’s learn a
lesson. This was a fine example of the greedy intentions and devious,
unscrupulous tactics of Big Business. It was a fine example of the role played
by Republicans as the anti-labor shock troops of Corporate America, in this
case fronting for the expanding legion of high-tech companies who want nothing
to stand in the way of their growing "work at home" empires. And to
top it all off, this was but the latest embarrassing spectacle of the White
House — and our Secretary of Labor — giving in to pressure from the bosses
literally overnight. Big Business would like to make millions more working
people work out of their homes, all scattered conveniently where health and
safety — and unions — aren’t much of an issue. Far be it from the
Clinton administration to stand in their way with some archaic ideas about
Sound a little hard on the Clinton crowd? How else can you
describe it when a White House spokesperson goes on record with the Washington
Post expressing "surprise and shock" that OSHA might want home
offices to be clean and safe? Or when the Secretary of Labor tells the
newspaper that she had never reviewed the letter to the Texas company but that
she was giving in because the letter had spawned "widespread confusion
and unintended consequences?"
Let’s be honest. The only "widespread confusion"
here is in the minds of people in this administration who think that all
health and safety laws have to be enforced by cooperation rather than
confrontation, and that the best response to an employer challenge is to run
away. And the only "unintended consequence" that I detected here was
the unintended provocation of Big Business by a Democratic regime that worries
more about what corporations think of them than about the health and safety of
For all the money, legwork, and votes that organized labor
shovels into the Democratic Party, you would think that we would fare a little
better than this. Unfortunately, no.
So stop what you are doing and sit down for a minute in your
home office. Pick up the phone and call someone you know, and ask them to join
the Labor Party. Don’t worry — the Home Office Police won’t get you. (We
know for sure now because the Labor Department just announced that home
offices are now exempt from OSHA coverage. From beginning to end, it took the
Clinton administration just 23 days to officially give in to Big Business.)
Update: You might remember
my mention of Democratic fundraiser extraordinaire Beth Dozoretz earlier this
year (Capitol Hill Shop Steward, July 1999).
It seems that this billionaire’s wife-turned-fundraiser resigned her post at
the Democratic National Committee right around the time Al Gore was packing up
to move his campaign out to Tennessee. It appears that the scheme to have Beth
call other billionaires and millionaires just wasn’t panning out. DNC
fundraising was down about $8 million when compared to the last presidential
Chris Townsend is political action director of the United
Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America (UE).