The latest issue of The Nation features a laudatory portrait of the Department of Labor under Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis by Esther Kaplan. The piece highlights the stark difference between the new DOL leaders and those of the Bush era. Here’s Kaplan contrasting the overall approaches of Secretary Solis and her predecessor:

Within two months of taking office, Bush and his labor secretary, Elaine Chao, had rammed through Congress the repeal of a new ergonomics regulation that had been a decade in the making. “It was almost like PATCO [the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization] in terms of its symbolic importance,” says NYCOSH director Joel Shufro, referring to Ronald Reagan’s crushing of the union in 1981. “That sent employers a huge message.” After that, the DoL didn’t issue a single new regulation unless it was forced to by Congress or the courts. Chao not only imposed new restrictions on overtime pay; she produced guidance for employers on how to avoid paying it. She imposed onerous reporting requirements that applied only to labor unions. And she left behind a layer of like-minded middle managers who, AFGE Local 12 vice president Eleanor Lauderdale says, have yet to be replaced. 

… Facing badly depleted enforcement ranks, Solis hired 710 additional enforcement staff, including 130 at OSHA and 250 for the crucial wage-and-hour division, upping inspectors by more than a third. Another hundred will come on next year to staff a crackdown on the misclassification of millions of employees as “independent contractors”–a dodge to avoid paying taxes and benefits–a move that has set off enormous buzz on business blogs. Her team took a plunger to the stagnant regulatory pipeline, moving forward new rules on coal mine dust, silica, and cranes and derricks. She restored prevailing wages for agricultural guest workers and is poised to restore reporting rules on ergonomic injuries. She revoked Chao’s union reporting requirements and countered with a proposed rule that employers who hire union avoidance firms must publicly report it, the sort of sunshine that could easily act as a deterrent. This latter measure hints at the sort of creative tactics being explored at the DoL, even as prounion legislation is stymied in Congress.

Kaplan closes the article with a reminder that DOL still has to rely on “broken laws and clunky regulatory powers” to advance its priorities. She gives the last word to Celeste, who notes that the new agency leadership knows what it’s up against:

“They know all the tricks of the trade,” says Celeste Monforton, a veteran of OSHA and MSHA who is now at George Washington University’s School of Public Health. “They know the Chamber of Commerce is going to come and say, This is going to kill jobs. None of that will surprise them, and none of that should make them blink.”