Labor opposes Alito nomination

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

In a letter to senators, 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 a judge in the Philadelphia-based Third Circuit Court of Appeals “reveal a 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,” Sweeney’s letter stated.

The Change to Win federation also formally opposed Alito. Anna Burger, Change to Win chair, 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.”

Accompanying Sweeney’s letter, the AFL-CIO sent the Senate documentation on 25 Alito case opinions. They included the following:

• A 1994 case where Alito argued against overtime pay for reporters at a chain of suburban Pittsburgh newspapers, claiming 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 workers’ unpaid wages.

• 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 an employer “discriminatorily failed to recall union supporters from layoff.”

• A 1993 ruling throwing out the union election at 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. Dissenting from the majority of an 11-judge court, Alito said this “no docking” provision violates Taft-Hartley, saying the law “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 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.”

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.