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Chao-Labor Furor Heats Up

WASHINGTON — Labor Secretary Elaine Chao continued to deflect criticism on Thursday that the Bush administration is against organized labor, as her office defended her comments made the day before about the need for more union financial...

WASHINGTON — Labor Secretary Elaine Chao continued to deflect criticism on Thursday that the Bush administration is against organized labor, as her office defended her comments made the day before about the need for more union financial disclosure.

This story first appeared in the February 28, 2003 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

A Chao spokeswoman wasn’t extending apologies and said, “[The] Secretary thought she had a very frank and productive discussion yesterday with union members and she feels the department has an excellent record [enforcing wage and workplace safety laws].

“The Secretary feels very strongly that union members should have the right to know how their money should be spent,” the spokeswoman added.

Chao’s offending words came Wednesday after delivering remarks to the AFL-CIO’s executive committee meeting in Hollywood, Fla. She was asked about a Bush administration proposal to raise the level of union financial disclosure required by law since 1954. Unions are protesting the changes, claiming compliance will be excessively expensive and serve to tip off management and political opponents to their lobbying and organizing strategies.

According to union members in attendance at the closed-door session, Chao’s response included a recitation from a prepared document about past union-related financial crimes. Her explanation went beyond her earlier calls for more transparency in how union funds are spent.

In the process, she appears to have further alienated her audience that is already critical of the White House on a host of labor issues, from trade to repeal of workplace repetitive motion injury standards.

“I’ve never seen a government official, republican or democrat, come into a union meeting and talk like that,” said Bruce Raynor, president of UNITE and an AFL-CIO executive committee member. “The Bush administration has taken a calculated turn to the right and it is their attempt to attack their opposition, the labor unions.”