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In Fact...

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PAYBACK AND ROLLBACK TIME FOR LABOR

It's grimly appropriate that the legislative weapon Senate Republicans (joined by six anti-labor Democrats) used to kill OSHA's ergonomics regulations--the Congressional Review Act (CRA)--is a holdover from Newt Gingrich's Contract on America. Passed in 1996, the CRA is a ten-megaton regulations-buster that enables Congress to obliterate a federal rule by a majority vote with minimal hearings and debate. Once voted down under CRA, a new rule on the same subject needs authorization by an act of Congress. (Labor Secretary Elaine Chao promised to consider new rules, providing cover for wavering legislators, while Ted Kennedy's call for further discussions was spurned by GOP senators, nostrils flaring at the scent of total victory.) The attack on OSHA's rule, which orders employers to eliminate ergonomic hazards after an employee is diagnosed with a workplace-related musculoskeletal disorder (MSD)--like back injury, carpal tunnel syndrome, repetitive strain injury, tendonitis--was a top priority of business lobbying groups. In the truncated debate GOP senators recited a parade of horribles (the regulation would cost astronomical sums to implement, was not backed by scientific opinion, did not deal with a real problem) and cast the rules as another Clinton eleventh-hour regulation (actually the standard was first proposed by Labor Secretary Elizabeth Dole in 1990 and issued last year after nine weeks of public hearings and testimony by hundreds of witnesses). The Bureau of Labor Statistics says every year more than 600,000 workers suffer serious job-related MSDs. The AFL-CIO reports women suffer 64 percent of repetitive motion injuries, even though they are 46 percent of the work force and 33 percent of all employees who are hurt on the job. The GOP House leadership immediately rammed the bill through to give George W. Bush a famous victory. Since W. took office, labor has been dealt a series of blows for its support of Al Gore. Bush has issued executive orders hurting union political activities and revoking a rule requiring union contractors on federal projects. Congress's OSHA standard repeal, however, is surely the most painful defeat--literally--to real workers.

BUSHISM OF THE WEEK

Speaking in Omaha on February 28, during his tour to tout his tax plan: We "understand how unfair the death penalty is, er...the death tax."

ON THE WEB: thisweek@thenation.com

President Bush's determination to give the superrich an eternal tax shelter by repealing the estate levy has revealed contradictions in the nonprofit sector and confusion about what it values and where it stands. Read Mark Rosenman's web-exclusive "Charity for All" at www.thenation.com.

NEWS OF THE WEAK IN REVIEW

Among the revelations attending the Robert Philip Hanssen spy flap was that the FBI does not administer lie detector tests to veteran agents. One worry, apparently, is that electronic prying might elicit embarrassing personal data. We suggest that what's the practice at the FBI, guardians of the nation's internal security, should apply to private-sector polygraphing.

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