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House OKs Bill Extending Labor Rights to Congressional Workers

August 11, 1994|KENNETH J. COOPER | THE WASHINGTON POST

WASHINGTON — Responding to political pressure from radio talk-show hosts, Ross Perot supporters and freshman lawmakers, the House on Wednesday approved bipartisan legislation that would give employees of Congress the same rights under labor laws as workers in the private sector.

More than 35,000 employees of Congress and its support agencies would get the legal right to organize unions, file discrimination lawsuits and work in safe environments under legislation to fully apply 10 labor laws to the legislative branch. The House passed the bill, 427 to 4, and sent it to the Senate, where supporters expect passage despite resistance from some senior members.

"What's good for the country ought to be good for the government," declared Rep. Dick Swett (D-N.H.), who co-sponsored the bill with Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.).

Congress has at least partially exempted itself from the 10 laws--including the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970--to avoid politically inspired enforcement actions from executive-branch agencies in violation of the constitutional separation of powers.

But critics argue that the exemptions symbolize Congress' arrogance and explain its alleged insensitivity to regulatory burdens imposed on business.

The Swett-Shays bill would skirt the separation-of-powers issue by putting enforcement in the hands of a new Office of Compliance and the federal courts.

Aggrieved employees could file lawsuits directly in federal district court or, after a three-step administration procedure, with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit here.

Currently, House employees have no such recourse in the courts, but Senate employees can sue under anti-discrimination laws.

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