Business Groups Say Federal Mediator Siding On Striker Replacement
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Employer groups are seething over a letter written by the government’s chief labor mediator that appears to endorse legislation that would outlaw the replacement of striking workers.
John Calhoun Wells, director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, said in his May 27 letter to Sens. Edward M. Kennedy and Howard Metzenbaum that he believed ″the use of striker replacements is destructive to the collective bargaining process″ and that it ″chills meaningful bargaining.″
Wells, appointed last November by President Clinton, said also that he believed the right of employers to replace striking workers ″emasculates the right to strike″ and that legislation forbidding replacement of workers who walk off their jobs ″would not trigger a flood of strikes.″ The House passed the striker replacement legislation last spring and it already has cleared the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee, chaired by Kennedy. The Clinton administration supports it.
But backers have been unable to muster enough votes to force a final vote on the legislation. Opponents have threatened to talk it to death. Proponents have said they are as many as five votes short of the 60 required to force a vote.
Wells wrote the letter in response to a request from Kennedy, D-Mass., and Metzenbaum, D-Ohio, both of whom back the legislation.
Eileen B. Hoffman, general counsel for FMCS, said Wells never intended to make an endorsement.
″His letter was in response to a request from the Congress,″ she said. ″We would never make an opinion about the specific dispute.″
She said Wells letter represented ″a point of view, not an endorsement.″
But business groups said Wells clearly was expressing an opinion in favor of the bill.
″It’s political,″ said Jeffrey Joseph, vice president for domestic policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
″This is an agency that’s supposed to have a neutral facade,″ he said. ″How can employers have any confidence going there.″
The Labor Policy Association, whose members include more than 200 major corporations, protested in a letter to Wells.
″The FMCS is required to be neutral in labor-management disputes,″ LPA President Jeffrey McGuiness said. ″Unfortunately, Director Wells’ unqualified endorsement of this bill undermines this agency’s mission.″
An aide to Metzenbaum, the legislation’s chief sponsor, said the senators asked Wells for his opinion because ″the FMCS is in a very unique position to have experience with regard to that issue.″
″It wasn’t a question of asking them to take a position on the legislation,″ said the aide, who asked not to be identified. ″I don’t see any problem with the FMCS maintaining its impartiality.″
Rex Hardesty of the AFL-CIO, which has the bill at the top of its legislative agenda, applauded Wells’ letter.
″To have a respected official of any federal agency speak up is helpful to us,″ he said.
Hardesty said allowing companies to replace striking workers ″changes good faith collective bargaining into a game of Russian roulette where only the workers have to put the gun to their head.″