Saturday, November 20, 2010

Senior Department of Labor Official: We Need Independent Labor Media

by: Dan Margolis

WASHINGTON - The mainstream media has become so biased against working people that even a federal agency can't get its message out, says a senior Department of Labor official.

President Obama's Labor Department has an impressive list of accomplishments, but most of the media doesn't bother to report on them, Carl Fillichio, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis's senior adviser for public affairs and communications, told the annual gathering of the International Labor Communications Association.

Referring to the midterm elections, Fillichio said, "Why we fared the way we did three weeks ago is because things weren't explained enough to people. There is a great need for people to get the full story."

The role of labor media is therefore all the more precious, he continued. In many cases, the only way his department can get its accomplishments known is through the independent media.

"We battle every single day when we try to put something out," he said. "The Washington Post, the New York Times, cable television" and others want to focus only on the nuts and bolts of policy issues. "Nobody is really telling the true story about how this is going to affect real people in real time in real ways."

Fillichio announced at the meeting that he had hired a staff person specifically to deal with labor media, and then proceeded to give his name, e-mail address and phone number to everyone in the audience.

The message was appropriate for the crowd. ILCA is the professional association of every newspaper published by a labor union, or about the labor movement, in the country. (The People's World is a member.)

In making his case, the official listed Labor Department accomplishments that the vast majority of Americans have never heard about.

The department has, since Solis took over, hired 720 bilingual grievance personnel, issued the largest OSHA fine in history, and, in a move unprecedented in U.S. history, completely shut down a mine because of worker fatalities.

"We believe that a worker doesn't have to die for a paycheck," the federal official said.

More than anything else, however, the biggest accomplishment of Solis's department so far, Fillichio told the crowd, was to bring it back up to pre-Bush, year 2000 standards.

"That's pathetic," he said, "but we gotta brag about that, because the previous administration brought it so low." He noted that "the previous Labor secretary, Elaine Chao, was the only Bush cabinet member who was there in the same department for eight years." He argued that over the eight years of the Bush administration, the employees and the department itself had been "de-souled."

"Here's something revolutionary," he said, speaking of the new department's accomplishments. "It was actually called 'revolutionary.' Hispanic workers are killed more than others on the job, so we held a Hispanic health and safety conference."

Fillichio is of the initiative, but said it was "ridiculous" that it could be called "revolutionary" or "historic," asking, "That was the first time an administration held such a conference?"

The Department of Labor will continue fighting for working people, he said, and will assess how to best do so given the Republican takeover of the House of Representatives. Solis and her staff will focus especially on enforcing existing labor law, he said.

"We cannot depend on those other people - the traditional media - to get that message out," Fillichio concluded.

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