During the presidential campaign President-elect George W. Bush promised to bring people together, but in choosing conservative veteran Linda Chavez to lead the Department of Labor (DOL) Bush has, at the outset of his administration, antagonized organized labor.
John Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO reacted quickly and harshly to yesterdays announcement of Chavezs nomination: It is an insult to American working men and women to put an avowed opponent of the most basic workers rights in charge of enforcing federal labor laws.
As the head of the Civil Rights Commission under President Reagan Chavez opposed affirmative action programs, and Sweeney charged she has also come out against the federal minimum wage.
A former union member and liberal Democrat, Chavez is now a nationally syndicated columnist, author, and founder of the Center for Equal Opportunity, a conservative think tank that examines race and assimilation issues.
In 1986 she won the Republican nomination to represent Maryland in the U.S. Senate, but lost the general election.
Without a background in occupational safety and health, it is not certain what Chavez plans to do with OSHA.
Peg Seminario, director of safety and health at the AFL-CIO said she hopes the new administration will choose candidates who are less ideological and more experienced than Chavez to sub-cabinet positions.
We dont need an ideologue heading OSHA, we need a safety and health professional, she said.
Seminario noted that in the elder Bushs administration Jerry Scannell, an experienced and respected safety professional, was selected as OSHA Administrator.
At the news conference called to make the nomination announcement, Chavez pledged to promote safe working conditions and to vigorously enforce the departments regulations.
Randy Johnson, vice president for labor and employee benefits at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said Chavez understands the perspectives of the business community better than anyone who headed DOL during the Clinton Administration.
She has the right backgroundwell be able to work with her, said Pat Cleary, vice president for human resources policy at the National Association of Manufacturers.
Cleary said the primary point for his organization was to have a DOL secretary not beholden to organized labor. Judging by Sweeneys statement, beholden to organized labor Chavez is not. She started in the labor movement, offered Cleary,that may allow her to do some outreach with them.