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September 03, 2003

Bush DOL Frustrates Worker Trade Help

One of the promises of recent trade agreements was that even if some workers got laid off because of opening up markets, the federal government would use tax funds -- supposedly expanding because of the benefits of economic growth from trade -- to help out any workers losing their jobs.

But the Bush Administration's Department of Labor (DOL) has been systematically undermining the law by seeking to exclude all manner of workers from the promised benefits, no matter how clearly they were effected by trade-related job losses.

In a series of decisions, the U.S. Court of International Trade -- a specialized court that covers trade issues -- has been harshly critical of the DOL for ignoring the clear intent of the law. Most recently on August 28, it found that the Bush administration had wrongly denied trade assistance benefits to laid-off support workers who had been working for contracters with LTV Steel corporation. (No link- sub. required):

Saying DOL's findings were "not in accordance with the law of the case, not in accordance with the substantial evidence on the record, and results oriented," [Judge] Musgrave said the close relationship between PLS and LTV favored finding that the former PLS employees lost their jobs because of increased steel trade and that there was no reason to deny them assistance just because they were not LTV employees.
The DOL was ordered to certify the eligibility of the employees.

This follows a decision last month where the same court had to order the administration to properly investigate claims by Utah Chevron oil workers of their claims. Again harshly condemning the DOL, the Court said:

"[T]he agency has repeatedly failed and refused to seek relevant data and to make a determination as to whether imports--from Canada or elsewhere--contributed to the [Chevron] workers' separation," [Judge] Ridgway said. "Out of an abundance of caution and in an exercise of restraint, the Labor Department will be afforded one final, brief, opportunity to do so."

This is not the first time that the trade court has criticized the Labor Department's handling of the Chevron workers' claims. Last October, Ridgway chastised DOL for the "sloppiness" of its report and its failure to properly investigate the claims. This current ruling is in response to the remand order issued last year (211 DLR AA-1, 10/31/02).

In this ruling, the court said that despite "a fairly scathing critique of the Labor Department's investigatory methods, its findings and its determinations in this case," DOL again failed to explain why the gaugers were not considered production workers and that it would be futile to send the case back to DOL. Therefore, the court said, it was clear from precedent that the employees were engaged in production and DOL no longer needed to wrestle with that issue.

This is not just oversight-- this is systematic defiance of court overview of the DOL to frustrate assistance to workers demanding the trade assistance benefits they were promised-- a key promise in convincing many undecided Congressmen to support these trade deals.

But Bush doesn't care about workers losing their jobs. He's made that clear in multiple ways, but this just puts in in black and white in the written words of the trade court judges. So don't take Bush seriously when he promises to fight job loss from trade deals.

He just doesn't care.

Posted by Nathan at September 3, 2003 10:17 AM