Page 21


HOT JUMBO BAGEL CAFE & BAKERY 307 WEST 5th STREET AUSTIN, TX 512.477.1137 attachment to working peopleor at least they worry that organized labor will fail to support them in the next election. A few RepublicansArlen Specter of Pennsylvania and Lincoln Chaffee of Rhode Island also pay attention to the labor constituencies in their states. So according to political math, the Senate should have been a stopper. But the Republicans had a secret weapon: the Congressional Review Act, an obscure law passed during the Gingrich Revolution. The CRA allows Congress to overturn any executive order that has been on the books for fewer than sixty days. It also limits debate to ten hours in each chamber and prohibits amendments and filibusters. Once DeLay had rounded up his votes in the House, all the business lobby needed was ten hours and fifty senators. \(In case of a tie, there was no doubt how Vice As Senate debate began, Chris Dodd of Connecticut emphasized how painstaking the ergonomics rule-making process had been. 051-IA had extended its time period on the regulations and had held nine weeks of public hearings. Dodd even suggested that one thousand witnesses and seven thousand written comments might be sufficient. For workers sitting in the gallery and watching, the debate was almost as painful as a carpal tunnel injury “So after twelve years of work… in ten hours of debate, we are going to wipe all this out,” Dodd said. Kennedy pleaded with Senator Don Nickles of Oklahoma, the Senate sponsor of the CRA bill, to hold off for sixty to ninety days to allow time to meet with Bush and discuss his objections. But the business lobby just wanted to bury it. “They were in a full-court press,” said Peg Seminario, the AFL-CIO’s health and safety director who had worked on the rules for years. “Once Bush was elected, it was clear he was going after the rules. With Bush in office and [Elaine] Chao at Labor, they could have used the legislative process to modify the rules or change them. It was even reviewable in court. Business could have challenged the rules in court, but there was so much process, there was such a record, so much evidence and testimony on both sides, they could only have made minor changes. But they knew that once you are into those processes, you will have rules, no matter how you change them. So they had to get Congress to do it. They had to go the CRA route to try to kill it forever.” The Bushies insisted they only wanted better rules. Secretary Chao wrote a letter to senators promising to go to work on newer ergonomics standards. That was all the ass-cover six conservative Democrats needed. After ten hours of debate, the Senate voted 56-44 to kill the rules twelve years in the making. Republican moderates Specter and Chaffee voted with the Democrats, but Zell Miller of Georgia, Blanche Lambert Lincoln of Arkansas, Fritz Hollings of South Carolina, Max Baucus of Montana, and John Breaux and Mary Landrieu of Louisianaall Democrats from states carried by Bushvoted with the Republicans. Kennedy sent the Labor Department a formal request for documents, trying to find a paper trail on who had made the decision to kill ergonomics regulation. “He got nothing,” said a Senate staff member. “Nothing worth having. Probably because there was nothing. This all had to be done through private meetings with the White House staff. With Karl Rove, the president and vice president talking to Chao or her staff.” The House vote was a done deal but still brought on an offensive drive by the lobby, the likes of which has rarely been seen since the happy days of the Gingrich Revolution six years earlier, when Newt Gingrich and Tom DeLay turned their office fax and copy machines over to the business lobbyists. The usual suspects from the K Street firms were joined by a large number of corporate CEOs, and many of them stuck around for the cel The commercial catfish business like the plantation system to which it is sometimes comparedis feudal in structure. Up and down the Mississippi Delta the landowners have moved from cotton to catfish, but land ownership still shapes the social hierarchy. At the bottom of the feudal pyramid are the African-American men who work in the catfish ponds and the African-American women who work in the processing houses. 28 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 1W10103