Labor opposes Alito nomination

WASHINGTON (PAI) — The nation’s two labor federations have formally joined the broad coalition of foes of GOP President George W. Bush’s nomination of federal appellate judge Samuel Alito to the U.S. Supreme Court.

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney cited a wide range of anti-worker rulings on family and medical leave, OSHA, union representation and even grievance processing.

Alito’s rulings and dissents as an appellate judge in the Philadelphia-based Third Circuit Court of Appeals “reveal a disturbing tendency to take an extremely narrow and restrictive view of laws that protect workers’ rights, resulting in workers being deprived of many vital protections” on health and safety, wage and hour laws, anti-discrimination laws and retaining pensions, Sweeney’s letter to senators stated.

The Change to Win federation also formally opposed Alito.

Anna Burger, chair of Change to Win, said, “Alito’s workplace would be one where worker rights would be severely curtailed. Alito’s record indicates he would side with those who would deny workers a real voice on the job.”

Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on Alito open Jan. 9.

The AFL-CIO documented 25 Alito case opinions and sent them, with Sweeney’s letter, to the Senate. They included the following:

* A 1994 case where Alito argued against overtime pay for reporters for a chain of suburban Pittsburgh newspapers because the Fair Labor Standards Act exempts workers at “small” newspapers. Alito was the minority opinion in this case.

* A 1997 Pennsylvania case where Alito’s majority opinion said corporate officers of bankrupt firms could not be held liable for unpaid wages of the workers.

* A 2002 case where Alito ruled a company had not had enough prior notice — despite 13 old job safety and health violations — of 33 new OSHA charges that it “failed to abate” on-the-job hazards. Alito threw out OSHA’s new charges.

* A 1997 case where Alito said a coal processing plant wasn’t a “mine” subject to federal health and safety rules.

* A 1991 Alito opinion overturning a National Labor Relations Board ruling that the employer involved “discriminatorily failed to recall union supporters from layoff.”

* A 1993 ruling throwing out the union election in Indiana Hospital in Indiana, Pa. The NLRB had upheld the vote and rejected the hospital’s objections, but Alito sent the case back to the board on technical grounds.

* In 1997, Alito invoked the Taft-Hartley Act in arguing against a provision in the UAW-Caterpillar contract which allows employees to perform grievance handling while on the clock. In dissenting from the majority of an 11-judge court, Alito said this “no docking” provision violates Taft-Hartley, “which criminalizes the payment of things of value by employers to labor organizations.”

* In 2000, Alito spoke for the circuit court in ruling state workers could not sue their states for violating the Family and Medical Leave Act. Alito ruled that the FMLA was a “disproportionate solution” to the problem of discrimination by the states. The AFL-CIO pointed out, “The Supreme Court later decided otherwise with respect to the family leave provisions of the FMLA,” in a decision written by the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist.

Sweeney’s letter noted Alito’s fellow appellate judges criticize his “excessively narrow view of worker protection and civil rights statutes.”

Besides Alito’s “disturbing tendency to take an extremely narrow and restrictive view of laws to protect workers’ rights, resulting in workers being deprived of wage and hour, health and safety, antidiscrimination, pension, and other important protections,” the letter said, “Alito holds federal agencies to an unrealistically high standard when they seek to enforce worker protection laws, often reversing them on hyper-technical grounds and depriving workers of important protections as a result.”

“We are also very concerned about Alito’s views on the scope of congressional power, given some of his rulings in this area, and his views about voting rights, given his criticism of the Warren Court and its reapportionment decisions,” the AFL-CIO said.