Labor Department Under Right-Wing Control
Allowed Wage Theft From Workers
hyperlinked to sources. For all
sources, see the data
Whenever I read about the average Joe
being abused, it gets me really angry. Doesn't
This is one such story.
The main sources for this segment are
various articles in the New York Times.
The GAO, the General Accounting
Office, is the non-partisan investigative arm
It did a study
of the Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division.
That agency is supposed to enforce minimum wage, overtime and other labor
Bush, of course, cut
the funding and staff for Department of Labor.
And those left there, apparently aren't much interested in accomplishing
The GAO study found that under the
Bush administration, this agency was not doing its job, leaving workers
vulnerable to abuse. And abused they
Not surprising for an agency run by
Here's how the report put it:
This investigation clearly
shows that Labor has left thousands of actual victims of wage theft who sought
federal government assistance with nowhere to turn.
Unfortunately, far too
often the result is unscrupulous employers’ taking advantage of our
country’s low-wage workers.
Low wage workers, already not earning
enough to survive, getting the shaft via right-wing closing their eyes to abuse.
Some of the gory details.
There were two areas, test cases, and
a study of how real life cases were handled.
A team of undercover agents posed as
workers complaining of employer abuse.
Over the course of a nine month
investigation, 5 of 10, half of the complaints the undercover agents filed, were
not even put into the Wage and Hour Division's data base.
Three complaints were put in the data base, but never investigated.
And maybe most outrageous of all, in
two cases, the agency recorded that the employers in question had paid back
wages due, when in reality -- that reality right-wingers avoid in so many ways
-- in reality, the employers had not paid those back wages.
What kind of cases were involved, you
may be wondering?
One complaint the division failed to
investigate was that under-age children in California were working, during
school hours, at a meatpacking plant, using dangerous machinery.
Eh, they're probably the children of
illegals, why should we bother to investigate?
An undercover agent posed as a
dishwasher, and complained over the phone to the Wage and Hour Division's Miami
office that he hadn't been paid overtime for 19 weeks.
That office took four months to return his calls, and then said -- get
this -- that it would be 8 to 10 months more before they'd be able to start
investigating his case!
That does it for the test cases.
As to the GAO's evaluation of real
life cases, the report found that this Wage and Hour division mishandled 1 in 5
To say the least, the agency was not
an outspoken or effective advocate for the workers.
--investigators would drop cases when
an employer failed to return their phone calls
--restaurant workers were owed
$230,000 for off-the-books work and tips never passed on to them.
Investigators let the restaurant just pay the wages, so the workers lost
--workers at a boarding school were
owed $200,000 in overtime. The
division accepted the school's offer of $1000, maybe because a statute of
limitations was approaching.
As you may be thinking, this agency
seems pretty cavalier about workers' rights.
And that's what the report found.
Amazingly, the agency actually told
workers in many cases that what they should do, is to go file their own lawsuits
against their employers. The whole
purpose of the Wage and Hour division is to avoid the necessity for workers to
have to file private lawsuits, which they often can't afford to do.
You have to remember who we're
talking about here. These aren't
derivatives traders who've already made millions and now aren't getting bonuses
they don't need. These are low
income workers who desperately need every cent of their wages to put food on the
table and pay their children's medical bills.
Ok, in a moment, I'll tell you what
the prospects are for cleaning up this situation.
As you'd probably expect, progressive
advocates are none too happy with this wage theft situation.
The group Interfaith Worker Justice
advocates on behalf of low-income workers. Kim
Bobo, their executive director, said:
We have a crisis in wage
theft, and the Department of Labor has not been aggressive enough in recent
The new secretary of labor
says she’s the new sheriff in town, but I’m concerned she’s facing the
wild, wild West of wage theft.
Which brings me to, what's the Obama
administration going to do about this?
The new secretary of labor Kim Bobo
refers to, is Hilda Solis. She's
probably the most progressive of Obama's cabinet appointments, which is not
saying much given his other choices. But
is a progressive.
Her parents were immigrants who held
union jobs. In California politics,
and then for eight years in Congress, she's been a staunch advocate for workers'
to the GAO report by promising:
I am committed to ensuring
that every worker is paid at least the minimum wage, that those who work
overtime are properly compensated, that child labor laws are strictly enforced and that
every worker is provided a safe and healthful environment.
She's going to increase the Wage and
Hour Division staff by hiring hundreds of new investigators.
The stimulus package will help pay for that.
And Solis pledged to vigorously
pursue the agency's "enforcement responsibilities."
She'll have legislative support.
Good old Representative George Miller, California Democrat, is chairman
of the House Education and Labor Committee. He was the one who asked the GAO to
do the investigation.
I like what he recently said:
When you have weak
penalties and weak enforcement, that’s a deadly combination for workers.
It’s clear that under
the existing system, employers feel they can steal workers’ wages with
impunity, and that has to change.
Miller will push for tougher
penalties for employer violations.
Throw them in jail, I say.
I ask you, how many right-wing
talking points are belied by stories such as this?
The value of work, hard work should
be rewarded, taking personal responsibility, the rule of law.
These don't mean a thing to the
right-wing when money's to be made.
Now Representative Miller mentioned
how employers feel they can steal workers' wages with impunity.
That reminds me of the situation with union organizing, where in podcast 137
I told you, how employers feel they can fire workers with impunity
if the workers try to organize a union. [Correction:
it was podcast 140
where the firing issue was discussed]
All this is related, because strong
unions are the best way to protect workers against wage theft and other abuses.
So let me quickly mention something
to you really, really important, And this, unlike the Wage and Hour Division
scandal, you can do something about right now.
In Podcast 137 you heard about the
right-wing campaign of lies against the Employee Free Choice Act, labor's number
one priority. The Act allows for
secret ballot elections just like now, and card check -- union recognition when
a majority of workers ask for it -- card check just like now.
The only change is, the Employee Free Choice Act doesn't allow employers
any longer to veto a card check organizing effort.
Well, bad news.
Republican Senator Arlen Specter, unlike in 2007, will
support the bill in procedural votes that allow the bill to come to the floor to
be voted on.
And in more bad news, California
Democrat Senator Barbara [correction, should be Diane] Feinstein issued a statement
indicating she's disinclined to support the bill, even though she did last time.
So if you're a California listener,
please call her office and tell her to support it.
202-224-3121! You can also go
which has one of those fill in the blanks, send an email pages on this issue.
But that's nowhere near as effective as a firm but polite phone call, if
you can do that.
There are other wavering
Democratic Senators as well. Lincoln
and Prior of Arkansas, Landrieu of Louisiana.
If you live there, call them!
Let's do it!
Red Cross Declares "Torture" And
Spain Targets Bushians For Prosecution
hyperlinked to sources. For all
sources, see the data
Your sources for this segment
include: the New York Times, the Associated Press, USA Today, MSNBC, CNN, the
British newspaper The Guardian, americanrhetoric.com, and the archives at
To my way of thinking, it's
critically important that Bush and everyone else on down be held accountable for
creating a regime of torture.
I don't know if you've noticed it,
but every week, sometimes every day, it seems new evidence is revealed, and new
efforts to hold them accountable are undertaken.
It's a steady drip, drip, drip,
hopefully leading to, as Martin Luther King put
it, justice rolling down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.
I'm going to tell you here about a
couple of these developments, one minor, one major, one with earth-shaking
In podcast 142
you heard about the explicit invocation of the T-word by some former Bush
Retired Army Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba
investigated the prisoner abuse scandal at
Abu Ghraib for the Bush administration.
He later wrote:
There is no longer any
doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes. The
only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use
of torture will be held to account.
Susan J. Crawford was in charge of
deciding which prisoners to bring to trial before the military commissions.
that in at least one case, that of Mohammed al-Qahtani
We tortured Qahtani.
His treatment met the
legal definition of torture. And that's why I did not refer the case
Ok, just recently, Vijay Padmanabhan,
the former State Department lawyer responsible for Guantanamo cases, spoke
He said that waterboarding and other
enhanced interrogation techniques "constitute torture."
Admitted, no one really knows this
guy. This is the minor development.
But everyone knows the Red Cross.
It enjoys profound international respect.
One of its jobs is to evaluate if the Geneva Conventions are being
complied with in the treatment of prisoners of war.
What did this esteemed organization
say about the Bushians?
A bit of background to set this up.
Back in September, 2006, George W.
Bush held a press conference. He
the interrogation techniques used by the CIA.
Here are some excerpts I've put together:
George W. Bush
In addition to the
terrorists held at Guantanamo, a small number of suspected terrorist leaders and
operatives captured during the war have been held and questioned outside the
United States, in a separate program operated by the Central Intelligence
[T]he CIA used an
alternative set of procedures. These procedures were designed to be safe, to
comply with our laws, our Constitution, and our treaty obligations.
This program has been
subject to multiple legal reviews by the Department of Justice and CIA lawyers;
they've determined it complied with our laws.
I want to be absolutely
clear with our people, and the world: The United States does not torture. It's
against our laws, and it's against our values. I have not authorized it -- and I
will not authorize it.
if George says so, it must be true.
where the Red Cross enters the picture, when Bush announces what's being done
with the prisoners questioned by the CIA.
So I'm announcing today
that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, and 11 other
terrorists in CIA custody have been transferred to the United States Naval Base
at Guantanamo Bay.
…These men will be held
in a high-security facility at Guantanamo. The International Committee of the
Red Cross is being advised of their detention, and will have the opportunity to
meet with them.
The opportunity to meet with them.
And meet they did.
The Red Cross produced a report and
sent it to the Bush administration, marked confidential.
Mark Danner is a journalism professor
at UC Berkeley and Bard College. He
somehow got a hold of this document, and wrote an article about it for The New
York Review of Books and an oped
for the New York Times.
This is what the Red Cross concluded:
The allegations of ill
treatment of the detainees indicate that, in many cases, the ill treatment to
which they were subjected while held in the C.I.A. program, either singly or in
combination, constituted torture. In addition, many other elements of the ill
treatment, either singly or in combination, constituted cruel, inhuman or
If you look at the chapter headings
of the report, any decent person would get a chill up their spine:
water,” “prolonged stress standing,” “beatings by use of a collar,”
“confinement in a box”
Now you may be wondering, and a
right-winger would certainly think to claim, well, this is just what the
detainees told the Red Cross. They're
probably making up stories.
Well, the problem with that excuse
is, that the detainees were kept isolated from one another, both at the CIA
interrogation locations, and at Gitmo. Yet
their stories are remarkably similar. The
Red Cross said that it
wishes to underscore that
the consistency of the detailed allegations provided separately by each of the
14 adds particular weight to the information provided…
By the way, in case you're curious
what "beatings by use of a collar" means -- I was -- it means this, as
described by some of the detainees, who remember, never spoke to each other.
First is what I call ad hoc collar:
I was taken out of my cell
and one of the interrogators wrapped a towel around my neck; they then used it
to swing me around and smash me repeatedly against the hard walls of the room.
Later, the ad hoc towel was replaced
by a plastic collar, as two other detainees reported:
A thick flexible plastic
collar would…be placed around my neck so that it could then be held at the two
ends by a guard who would use it to slam me repeatedly against the wall.
On a daily basis during
the first two weeks a collar was looped around my neck and then used to slam me
against the walls of the interrogation room. It was also placed around my neck
when being taken out of my cell for interrogation and was used to lead me along
the corridor. It was also used to slam me against the walls of the corridor
during such movements.
In a moment, what are the
ramifications of this Red Cross finding of torture?
What does the Red Cross finding of
Remember back in podcast 142 you
heard that the US is a signatory to a treaty called the Convention
Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
Treaties are binding
laws on the US government.
And the Convention Against Torture
unequivocally requires that a "prompt and impartial investigation" be
wherever there is
reasonable ground to believe that an act of torture has been committed
Before this Red Cross report, the
Obama administration had Major General Taguba, Susan Crawford, and then Vijay
Padmanabhan to establish a reasonable ground to believe that torture had taken
Right-wingers and other deniers would
say, oh, they're just disgruntled officials.
So this Red Cross report is the coup
de grace for any wiggle room in establishing reasonable grounds to believe that
prisoners were tortured.
Not to mention the fact that Attorney
General Eric Holder has himself baldly stated
that waterboarding is torture.
audio: Eric Holder
Waterboarding is torture.
And the Bushians have admitted
to waterboarding prisoners.
audio: Dick Cheney
INTERVIEWER: [O]ne of those tactics, of course,
widely reported was waterboarding. And that seems to be a tactic we no longer
use. Even that you think was appropriate?
CHENEY: I do.
Remember also, way back in podcast 124
I told you how right inside the White House situation room, the highest
officials in the land, like Dick Cheney, Attorney General John Ashcroft,
Secretary of State Colin Powell, CIA Director George Tenet and national security
adviser Condoleezza Rice, all sat
discussed which "enhanced interrogation techniques," including
waterboarding, would be used on which prisoners.
And, ol' George W. has stated that he
approved of these
Given the mounting irrefutable
evidence, how does the public feel about all this?
That same poll found that by a lesser
margin, 50 to 47%, Americans supported investigating "whether any laws were broken
in the way terrorism suspects were treated under the Bush administration."
conjectured at the time that perhaps that slimmer margin has to do with the
question's wording. Instead of
"whether laws were broken," if it had said "whether torture was
used," the pro-investigations view might have had a higher number, given
the 58-40% margin that said torture should never be used in any circumstances in
the first place.
Well, perhaps I was correct.
A negative development
in holding the torturers accountable is that the Obama administration
is trying to protect top Bush administration military officials from
lawsuits brought by prisoners who say they were tortured while being held at
The Justice Department argued in a filing…that holding military officials
liable for their treatment of prisoners could cause them to make future
decisions based on fear of litigation rather than appropriate military policy.
As a recent NY Times editorial
summarized it, in too much detail to get into
here, Obama is definitely a mixed bag, confusing even, on the war on
terrorism/treatment of prisoners/secrecy/interrogation fronts.
Of course, that's infinitely better
than a consistently horrific bag of a Bush or a McCain or any of a thousand and
one other right-wingers.
even though there doesn't seem to be much appetite in the Obama administration
or among the movers
and shakers in Congress to hold the Bushians personally, criminally accountable
for their torture-mongering, there is a ray of hope.
may not know this gentleman by name, Baltasar Garzon.
He's a Spanish investigative judge. But
you may well remember what he did. He
was the judge who ordered the arrest of former Chilean dictator August Pinochet.
Pinochet was arrested
in Britain in
-- for joy, for joy -- Judge Garzon has
taken the first steps
toward opening a criminal investigation into allegations that six former
high-level Bush administration officials violated international law by providing
the legal framework to justify the torture of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, an official close to
the case said.
The case, against former
Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and others, was sent to the
prosecutor’s office for review… The official said that it was “highly
probable” that the case would go forward and that it could lead to arrest
those of you familiar with such players, the other officials named include
Douglas Feith and John Yoo, the latter of the infamous torture memo.
complaint sent on by Judge Garzon is based on the Convention Against Torture and
the Geneva Conventions.
case you're wondering what connection Spain has with the case, several of the
Gitmo detainees were Spanish citizens.
Spanish law provides for worldwide jurisdiction in cases of torture or war
are, the complaint names not the highest officials like Bush, Rumsfeld and
Cheney, in order to make it less politically explosive.
Maybe after getting the underlings, they'll go up the ladder.
Sort of like a Mafia prosecution.
can hear right-wingers grumbling, another leftist judge.
Garzon is an equal opportunity defender of human rights. In addition to other right-wing
human rights abusers like the former Argentine dictatorship, he's
Islamic terrorists and drug traffickers.
You should be aware that the right is
that one of the lawyers pushing the Spanish court to take this case, was
convicted of collaborating with a terrorist organization, this relating to the
country of Chile or the Basque separatists in Spain, I can't make out precisely
what the right claiming.
Even if true, I don't care if Osama
bin Laden himself drafted the complaint Judge Garzon has forwarded on to the
prosecutor. The complaint stands on
its own factual and legal merits, not on who supports it.
And factual and legal merit it has in
abundance, as you've just heard. Hence
the right-wing resort to their usual distraction attacks.
On a buffoonish note, get a load of
Bill O'Reilly up in arms, threatening the Spanish people:
audio: Bill O'Reilly
As this goes on, you know,
there are going to be a lot of Americans angry with Spain…
Spain is cruisin' for a
bruisin', as they say out in
Levittown, Long Island, where I'm from…
We have a brand-new
billoreilly.com poll question for you in light of what you've just heard and
what's happening in Spain.
Do you believe we should
boycott that country?
Yes, No, Not Yet?
Should we boycott Spain—yes? no?
I'll leave you with this:
One of the lawyers who drafted the
The only route of escape the prosecutor might have is to ask whether there
is ongoing process in the US against these people,
This case will go ahead. It will be against the law not to go ahead.
of law, thy will be done!