workers. A recent issue of his quarterly newsletter, Texas Business Today, addresses “The 10 Commandments of Firing.” The first commandment instructs employers to “avoid any references to guaranteed lifetime employment, or that the employment relationship will last ‘as long as work is satisfactory.’ The so-called Commissioner Representing the Public, Diane Rath of San Antonio, also has strong ties to the business community. Rath has worked as the senior director of public affairs for the multinational corporation Kinetic Concepts, Inc., and has served on San Antonio’s Chamber of Commerce. The AFL-CIO’s Joe Gunn calls the TWCwith Perdue, Hammond, and Rath as commissioners”an absolute arm of business.” And the arm, it appears, has flexed its muscles to help Texas employers in two ways: to subsidize the employment of low-wage workers and to win the unemployment compensation appeal cases heard before the Commission. The best example of the Commission’s assistance to provide companies with low-wage workers is taking place in Uvalde. In 1996, the TWC allocated a job skills grant to train airplane mechanics’ helpers for Uvalde’s Sierra Industries. The job title sounds impressive–yet the workers receive starting pay of approximately $5.50 per hour. Dick Whipple, the technical vocational director overseeing the project, describes the program as giving the workers “a leg up to get in that career track.” But AFL-CIO spokesman Ed Sills describes the job-skills grant somewhat differently. Using these taxpayer-funded grants “to train workers for jobs paying poverty-level wages,” says Sills, “is nothing less than corporate welfare.” Union leaders also point out that the Workforce Commission has been favoring employers in its unemployment compensation appeal cases. \(Unemployment compensation appeals, decided by the three commissioners, arise when employers contest recently-termiLevy, the AFL-CIO’s legal director, says that since the creation of the TWC it is “clear that in contested cases, workers [are] losing at an unprecedented rate.” Levy did acknowledge that Perdue has often cast a dissenting vote in favor of the employeeto no avail. Former TEC commissioner Jackie St. Clair says he has also heard that the appeal decisions have been unfair to workers. “People are telling me,” says St. Clair, “…if you’re a worker, you’ve had it.” He said that when he presided over unemployment compensation hearings at the TEC, things were much different. “We tried to be fair,” he says. “We tried to represent all the people at all times. Everybody told us that we were fair, and they appreciated it. If I had somebody from labor that I knew wasn’t right, I’d vote against him. And if [the employers’ commissioner] had someone from the business side and knew they weren’t fair, he would vote against him. [The public’s commissioner] weighed both sides if we had one vote one way and one vote another.” CONFIRMATION BATTLE Bush’s appointments to the TWC occurred after the Legislature’s 1995 session, and the current Senate is only now considering these commissioners’ confirmations. Disappointed with Perdue’s antiunion statements and his agency’s less-than-rapid response in Tyler, the Texas AFL-CIO has mounted an effort to defeat the labor corn 20 THE TEXAS OBSERVER missioner’s confirmation in the Senate. Gunn is confident that Per due’s confirmation is in serious jeopardy. “I think because of Mr. Per due’s actionsand lack of actionhis confirmation is in trouble.” Sources at the committee confirm Gunn’s assessment. To be confirmed by the Senate, Perdue will first need to get a hearing before the Senate Nominations Committee, but the committee chair, Frank Madla of San Antonio, says that a hearing is unlikely because it is apparent Perdue doesn’t have the two-thirds support in the Senate needed for confirmation. “There are eleven votes against him,” Madla says. “I don’t intend to bring any nominee to the floor of the committee [who] doesn’t have the votes for confirmation.” Madla added that not scheduling the doomed Perdue before the Committee saves the Senate’s time, and should also avoid embarrassing the labor commissioner with an outright Senate rejection. “We’re not going to get involved in a controversial situation that’s not going anywhere.” As the Observer went to press, Perdue’s confirmation hearing still had not been scheduled, although the Hammond and Rath appointments were on the agenda for the final scheduled committee meeting, May 19. If Perdue doesn’t get a hearing before the Committee, Madla explains, Perdue must vacate his office once the legislative session ends, and Governor Bush must find a new nominee. The governor’s office declined to comment directly on Perdue’s chances. Spokesman Ray Sullivan said simply, “We believe that Mr. Perdue is a fine person who has done a good job at the Workforce Commission, and we believe that deserves confirmation.” Despite his confirmation’s virtually certain death, Perdue has been campaigning vigorously to resuscitate it. Recently, he wrote to labor groups asking for support, arguing, “As you can see, to oppose my confirmation just means a loss of a labor friend and a loss for labor in Texas” [emphasis in original]. According to Perdue’s letter, the Governor has threatened that if Perdue’s confirmation is defeated, Bush will appoint an anti-labor “Attila the Hun” as the TWC’s new labor commissioner. The governor’s office declined to confirm Perdue’s version of the governor’s position. For his part, Joe Gunn says he isn’t worried about Bush’s threat. “Now Bush can run at me all he wants to. He can give me ‘Attila the Hun.’ [But] he’s hurting himself, because there are some workers who voted for him. And every time he does something of this sort, that just gives me more ammunition to be sure that no workers vote for him next time. I don’t think that Pinocchio picture exactly tickled his ribs. But I wonder how 10,000 Pinocchio pins would suit him at every precinct convention in Texas.” As it stands now, David Perdue will likely be clearing out his office at the Workforce Commission. This is good news for Gunn, the Texas AFL-CIO, and labor leaders from Tyler. But the Texas Workforce Commission minus Perdue would still be a frightening monster for Texas workers. It would still have Hammond, Rathand perhaps even “Attila the Hun” as its new labor commissionerand it will continue representing employers, not employees. Joe Gunn sums up this pro-business agency bluntly. “I wouldn’t take Workforce home and show it to my mama, if she was alive. I’m ashamed of it.” With this article, reporter Mark Murray says farewell to Austin, and will continue his journalism career in New York. MAY 23, 1997
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