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Secretary of Labor Is a Misnomer in the Case of Ann McLaughlin

November 10, 1987|HARRY BERNSTEIN

Ann Dore McLaughlin, the conservative Reagan loyalist whose work experience has primarily been in public relations, should be called President Reagan's choice to be America's first secretary of anti-organized labor.

Instead, Congress almost surely will confirm her nomination by Reagan last week as secretary of labor and bestow on her that more traditional title.

But Mark de Bernardo, manager of labor law for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, has accurately summarized the role McLaughlin is expected to play in her new post:

"Her most important job will be to deliver to Capitol Hill the threat of Reagan vetoes, the vetoes and the need to support vetoes of the legislative agenda of organized labor."

Los Angeles Times Friday December 4, 1987 Home Edition Business Part 4 Page 2 Column 6 Financial Desk 2 inches; 42 words Type of Material: Correction
It was incorrectly stated in the Labor column on Nov. 10 that the Labor Department's program encouraging labor-management cooperation began under former Secretary William Brock. His predecessor, Raymond J. Donovan, initiated the programs, but they were substantially expanded under Brock.

Since Democrats are a majority in the House and Senate, there is a real possibility that Congress will adopt some of labor's very modest legislative objectives before Reagan leaves office.

Thus, it will largely be up to Reagan to help the conservatives kill labor's proposals. Labor's top priorities include much-needed measures that would:

- Mandate employer-provided health insurance for millions of uninsured workers.

- Require employers to give advance notice to workers when plants are going to be closed.

- Increase the disgracefully inadequate $3.35-an-hour minimum wage.

- Guarantee that jobs will be held for parents taking time off when a child is born or adopted.

- Prohibit unionized construction firms from operating non-union subsidiaries as devices to undercut union contracts.

But McLaughlin may be a disappointment to those who expect her to lead the Administration fight against labor's legislative agenda.

McLaughlin is said to be likable and bright, but the former Interior undersecretary is a relative unknown, a political lightweight with few contacts in Congress whose labor relations experience is zilch.

And she certainly does not have the political punch of the man she was picked to replace, William E. Brock III.

While Brock generally supported the Administration and most business leaders in their fight against labor's legislative agenda, his heart didn't seem to be in it. He wasn't the union-basher that conservatives wanted as labor secretary.

But in many ways he was a formidable foe of labor's goals because his integrity and knowledge are generally respected. His words were not dismissed by Democrats or Republicans on Capitol Hill as those of an ideologue or simply an echo of the prevalent anti-union forces in the White House.

Unlike McLaughlin, Brock has cordial, often warm relations with many labor leaders, including AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland, despite some sharp differences with them on several key issues.

Also, he is known to have privately supported some labor proposals, such as the plant closure measure. He reportedly spoke against it only at the insistence of White House conservatives.

Brock appointed liberal, pro-union aides such as Deputy Undersecretary Stephen Schlossberg, who established a valuable, active labor department bureau to encourage labor-management cooperation.

The very presence of Brock aides like Schlossberg in the Reagan Administration seemed to some to undermine the drive by the Chamber of Commerce and others to block the labor-backed legislation.

Brock also has an excellent personal relationship with the liberal Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), who is spearheading many of labor's proposals in the Senate. That, too, was viewed by some as additional evidence of Brock's lack of commitment to the anti-organized labor cause.

Anti-Union Forces

However, these very factors added to Brock's credibility and impact when he opposed labor's agenda.

McLaughlin's effectiveness in blocking that agenda will depend primarily on her public relations skills in driving home the threat of Reagan's vetoes. One would hope that won't be enough to defeat the much-needed laws.

Still, whether or not she is as effective as Brock in opposing labor's agenda, her appointment has cheered anti-union forces, such as leaders of the National Right To Work Committee.

McLaughlin will be a "substantial improvement over Brock, whom we view as the worst Republican secretary of labor since John Dunlop," said a spokesman for the committee. (John T. Dunlop served in 1975-76 under President Gerald R. Ford. Despite his brief tenure, Dunlop ranks as one of the outstanding labor secretaries in American history. He is a world-famous labor expert and professor at Harvard University.)

While admitting his organization knows little about her views on such issues as "right to work" laws that prohibit union shop contracts, the committee spokesman added:

"We hope Mrs. McLaughlin will run the department of labor as just that, and not as the 'department of organized labor,' which Brock seemed to think he was doing." Few expect her to actually take charge of the department, with its 18,506 employees and an annual budget of about $24 billion.

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