Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao – A Lady of Achievement

Posted: Apr 12, 2006 5:14 PM

Now there are two. With the resignation of Gale Norton as Secretary of the Interior, there remain only two members of President Bush's original cabinet. They are the highly controversial Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and the far less controversial Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao.

Elaine Chao is one of the smartest, most competent, most dedicated Cabinet Secretaries ever to have served. She has managed to make significant changes without becoming a lightening rod. When businessman Raymond Donovan became Secretary of Labor in the first Ronald Reagan term he told me there were funds set aside for the various unions. Previous Labor Secretaries, whether Republican or Democrat, permitted the unions these funds without oversight or any report as to their use. He put a stop to this practice. For taking that action, Donovan was subjected to a vicious smear campaign which continued for years. It ruined his business in New Jersey. After he was exonerated, Donovan made the famous statement, "Where do I go to get my good name back?" Elaine Chao has done something almost as aggravating to the labor unions as Donovan did. She greatly increased the reporting requirements of large unions so that union members can know how their dues money is spent.

For example, after the unions fought this disclosure and lost, it was revealed that over half of the National Education Association (NEA) Staff is paid well over $100,000 per year - this from the union which represents most teachers who earn an average of $48,000 a year. THE WALL STREET JOURNAL put it, "so it seems you're better off working as a union rep than in the classroom." NEA President Reginald Weaver is paid $439,000; the 600 NEA employees are paid $58 million - both exclusive of benefits. We never knew data like that before Elaine Chao became Labor Secretary.

NEA gets its money from mandatory member dues. Last year that source amounted to $295 million of NEA's total receipts of $341 million last year. About $90 million of that money is spent upon political activity, lobbying and grants to other leftwing causes to support NEA goals.

Now at least union members have the chance to learn how their dues are spent. It has been a long time in coming.

Ms. Chao, who is the wife of Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Senate Majority Whip, showed some of us the forms that the unions were required to fill out when she became Labor Secretary. There were vague categories to which huge sums of money were assigned. It was absurd. Now if you want to find out how much AFL-CIO executives or staff have spent on travel and where they went, you can do so.

The unions took Elaine Chao's proposed regulations to court and lost. So those regulations must be implemented.

In 1988 the Supreme Court of the United States handed down its decision in Communications Workers v Beck, commonly referred to as the Beck Decision or just Beck. Beck basically conferred upon a union member the right to a refund of that portion of the member’s union dues not directly related to collective bargaining or the administration of the union. However, Beck never has been implemented beyond a few workplaces.

We hope in this second term that President George W. Bush, who has supported his Secretary of Labor to the hilt on the transparency matters, will more fully implement the Beck requirement. If every American worker understood that he had a legal right to the refund of a portion of his dues, what do you think most workers would do? Perhaps notice of the Beck Decision should be sent to the wives of union members. When Momma finds out that of the $100 in dues per month perhaps a third, maybe more, could be refunded each month, what position do you think Momma is going to take?

Labor unions are down to only 12.1% of the workforce. Industrial unions represent only 8% of the workforce. The sole growing sector of unions is the so-called public sector unions, which represent governmental workers.

In addition to the transparency issue which has so much potential, Secretary Chao has modernized overtime rules, some of which had not been touched for fifty years. Her regulations have reduced litigation by hundreds of millions of dollars and have made that money available for job creation. Contrary to the screams of organized labor, the new regulations provide for more overtime for more workers and for the first time ever, the regulations explicitly guarantee overtime protection to blue collar workers, police and firefighters as well as factory workers, construction workers and hourly workers, among others others.

Secretary Chao continues to do a remarkable job in a low-key manner. She has a remarkable ability to accomplish her objectives while sidestepping confrontation.

We wish every Bush Cabinet Member were as principled and dedicated to constructive change as Elaine Chao. Every American taxpayer and indeed every union member should be glad she is where she is. Above all, we hope she will be a Bush Cabinet Member who will help him turn out the lights in January 2009.