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Elaine Chao is no friend of labor
Elaine Chao is no friend of labor
Working: This Bushwoman is no friend of labor
By Mary Conroy
May 19, 2004
President Bush says we're in an economic recovery.
Well, you could sure fool me. We've lost some 2.8 million jobs since he took office, and the jobs that have been created don't come close to paying the wages of the manufacturing jobs we've lost.
But Laura Flanders' new book "Bushwomen" provides any laid-off employee with plenty of ammunition.
Just turn to the chapter on Elaine Chao, Secretary of the Department of Labor. When Bush appointed her, the press bought Chao's "American Dream" story hook, line and sinker.
Here's their version of the fairy tale: Chao was born in Taiwan to a family who fled the Chinese revolution in 1949. Her father, James, went to college with Jiang Zemin, and had connections to two of China's most powerful families - the Tung dynasty and the Hsus family. Both families were involved in shipping.
James came to the U.S. in 1958 as an employee of one of the Tung's merchant-shipping outfits. He brought his family over three years later. Elaine Chao started third grade in Queens speaking no English, and within a year, was elected class president.
James started his own shipping company in 1964. By the time President Nixon lifted the trade embargo with China, James' company was ideally situated to take advantage of it.
As his company become more and more successful, the family moved from Queens to Long Island, and then to wealthy Westchester County. As Flanders says, "It is here, as Elaine Chao's up-by-the-bootstraps story turns to talk of circular driveways in Westchester, that one begins to get a sense of the quality of the bootstrap leather."
Elaine went to Mount Holyoke College and Harvard Business School. Then she worked primarily in shipping for Gulf Oil and Citicorp. She was a White House fellow under Ronald Reagan, concentrating on international shipping and maritime unions. She worked for BankAmerica, and then was appointed deputy administrator of the Maritime Administration in the Department of Transportation.
In the DOT, she saved the shipping companies' favorite loan program. George H.W. Bush named her head of the Peace Corps in 1991, although she would have preferred secretary of transportation.
But she took advantage of the collapse of the Soviet Union and completely changed the direction of the Peace Corps. She recruited American MBAs to start small businesses in Russia, at taxpayer expense.
Elaine then became head of the United Way. In the 1990s, she married Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, who had a million-dollar campaign fund. McConnell became chair of an important committee on foreign operations and export financing.
So here's what Secretary Chao has done for American workers: She opposed the 1991 Civil Rights Act. She was a founder of the Independent Women's Forum, a group of conservative women who hold themselves up as models of the American Dream.
As Secretary of Labor, she's been working to dismantle the department. She serves the interests of business, and has been on the board of directors of such companies as Northwest Airlines and Dole Food Co. She's maneuvering the Labor Department from being an advocate for workers to being a watchdog of unions.
She's cut health and safety law enforcement, child-labor regulations and the minimum wage. She stopped investigations into ergonomic injuries. Although she says there's no money for those items, she can find plenty of money to audit unions. While she's increased the amount of paperwork unions have to submit to the DOL, she ended the DOL's program of announcing mass layoffs every month.
She invoked the anti-union Taft-Hartley Act to force 10,000 longshore workers on the West Coast back to their jobs. She said small businesses were being hurt. Actually, the businesses that were affected were shipping firms that had been connected to her for years.
Most recently, she and Bush announced they will cease an investigation into unfair trade, currency practices and labor rights in China. American labor unions prompted the investigation.
But Elaine Chao and Bush say they'll be more effective with China using a carrot than a stick.
Is it just me, or does anyone else think something is rotten in the state of China?
Mary Conroy is a Madison-based free-lance writer.