Elaine Chao's Absence of Accountability

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The Huffington Post

Elaine Chao's Absence of Accountability

by
Mary Beth Maxwell

In a recent six-part series, the Charlotte Observer exposes the horrendous working conditions of Carolina poultry workers, suffering among other things from unreported injuries, exploitation and medical neglect.

Looking at the latest Labor Department blunder involving its failure to protect poultry workers, it is clear that OSHA, the federal agency in charge of enforcing safety and health protections, has abandoned its job. The blame for these failures falls at the feet of our Secretary of Labor, Elaine Chao.

Elaine Chao's 'leadership' at the Department of Labor should not be emulated by anyone. She has undermined the agency and repeatedly failed to serve in the best interests of workers she is charged with protecting.

As the executive director of a nonprofit organization, I have to hold myself accountable to my staff, board of directors, and donors in order to get my job done. When any problem emerges affecting the ability of our organization to fulfill our mission, I'm ultimately responsible for the outcome.

However challenging carrying out those responsibilities can be, I am humbled and inspired by the women who paved the way for me to serve in a top post. Frances Perkins is a perfect example. As the Secretary of Labor during Franklin D. Roosevelt's presidency and the first woman to hold a cabinet post, Perkins defined a style of leadership to which all women can aspire. Her legacy of improving workers' lives during a challenging period in American history set a standard for how the Secretary of Labor - and all women in public service - should perform their responsibilities.

But Chao's tenure as Secretary of Labor is stained with dismantling critical mine safety protections, displaying open hostility toward workers and their unions, and collaborating with corporate interests, most notably through her husband, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell. Her embarrassing legacy shows a complete lack of accountability at the Department of Labor.

That's not all. Some of the most disturbing examples of where Elaine Chao's priorities lie include:

•Hiring a former colleague from the Heritage Foundation, D. Mark Wilson, who actually wrote a report titled "How to close down the Department of Labor."

•Cutting over 100 inspectors at the Mine Safety and Health Administration and, as a result, hundreds of mines weren't inspected and tragedies such as Sago and Crandall Canyon might have been prevented.

•Failing to issue a rule requiring employers pay for their workers' safety gear -- contributing to 400,000 workers injured and 50 dead.

•Having an auditorium at the University of Louisville named in her honor, compliments of her husband's $14.2 million earmark, at taxpayers' expense. Elaine never attended the university, although it is her husband's alma mater.

Yet there has been little outcry to date over Elaine Chao's numerous abuses of power and fundamental lack of oversight for workers. Unlike her cohorts in the Bush administration, Chao has escaped much-needed public scrutiny of her time on the job.

For the well-being of America's workers and for the sake of the Labor Department itself, this must change.

Americans deserve a Secretary of Labor who can provide a well-balanced approach to the interests of both business and labor, not an ideologue with a blatant political agenda. Frances Perkins kept that balance, and helped pull our nation out of its worst economic catastrophe in history.

As more and more people learn about the mess Elaine's made of the Department of Labor, the more people get outraged. That's why American Rights at Work is putting pressure on Elaine Chao to change course during her remaining year on the job. By demanding accountability and setting the standard for how our next Secretary of Labor should manage the Labor Department, we hope to end the dreadful experience America's workers have endured for the past seven years.

Visit ShameOnElaine.org to learn more about Elaine Chao's record, our campaign to hold her accountable, and ways you can become involved.

Mary Beth Maxwell is the Executive Director of American Rights at Work, a national advocacy organization launched in 2003 to advance workers' rights to freely and fairly form unions.

Copyright © 2008 HuffingtonPost.com, Inc.

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