With Congress in recess, President George W. Bush took advantage of his power to bypass the Senate confirmation process, and made a "recess appointment" of Eugene Scalia, the controversial nominee who will be the new solicitor of labor at the Department of Labor (DOL). Regarded as the third highest position in the department, the solicitor is responsible for defending the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and DOL regulations in court, and usually has considerable influence over enforcement and regulatory policy.
Scalia''s nomination had been stuck in the Senate for months, largely because his outspoken and public opposition to the Clinton administration''s failed effort at ergonomics regulation provoked the opposition of organized labor as well as Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.). Last month Daschle predicted Scalia would be denied confirmation because he didn''t think Scalia "has the 60 votes that would be required for as controversial a nominee as he is."
The statement infuriated Republicans, who argued Daschle was being an obstructionist toward Scalia, a well-qualified nominee who had the support of most senators, and who fought the ergonomics rule, repealed by majorities in both houses of Congress last March.
The White House defended the Jan. 11 decision, saying it was forced to bypass the Senate because Democrats denied Scalia a vote in the full Senate, even though the nominee had won committee approval.
Republicans and employer groups were overjoyed at Bush''s move, but the recess appointment is likely to sour his relations with Democrats and could provoke further partisan wrangling over labor issues. The administration has still not announced its promised, but long-delayed, new comprehensive approach toward ergonomics.
Daschle called the recess appointment "regrettable."
Pat Cleary, senior vice president for the National Association of Manufactures disagreed. "The delay on his nomination had gone on more than long enough, and we are pleased that President Bush took matters into his own hands so that Scalia can get down to work immediately," he said.
While the recess appointment allows Scalia to begin work at once, it also means he is only assured of staying in office until the end of the upcoming congressional session, probably sometime in October.
Scalia, the son of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, is a prominent conservative labor lawyer who represented employer groups that opposed the Clinton administration''s ill-fated ergonomics regulation. In his writings he once attacked the science underling the rule as "quackery" and "junk science."
"It is a slap in the face of American workers for President Bush to recess appoint Eugene Scalia, an outspoken opponent of ergonomics and other worker protections," said John Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO.
Organized labor vowed to watch closely DOL''s future enforcement of workplace safety rules and other worker protections. Sweeney noted that during his confirmation Scalia vowed to enforce the law vigorously on behalf of American workers.
"We hope he spoke the truth," said Sweeney. "Only time will tell."
by James Nash