WASHINGTON- Bridgestone/Fire-stone Inc. and other business groups are jubilant over a federal appeals court's Feb. 2 ruling to overturn President Clinton's executive order against companies which hire striker replacements. Organized labor and the Clinton administration, however, vowed to get the decision reversed.
Issued last March 8, the order forbade companies which hire permanent replacements for legally striking workers from holding federal contracts of $100,000 or more.
Mr. Clinton and Labor Secretary Robert B. Reich branded BFS a labor outlaw when they issued the order. In January 1995, the firm hired 2,300 replacements for about 4,000 workers on strike since July 1994.
On March 15, 1995, BFS and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, the Labor Policy Association and the American Trucking Associations filed suit in U.S. district court in Washington, seeking to overturn the Clinton order as unconstitutional.
Judge Gladys Kessler of the district court dismissed the case in May, but a U.S. appeals court reversed and remanded. On July 31, the district court ruled the president had acted within his constitutional powers, but suspended enforcement of the order pending the plaintiffs' appeal.
Ruling unanimously for BFS, the three-judge panel agreed the order violated a provision in the National Labor Relations Act which allows employers to hire permanent striker replacements.
The financial impact of the order also would be detrimental to U.S. industry, the court ruled. Using Government Accounting Office figures, it estimated the order covered purchases worth 6.5 percent of the gross national product.
The United Steel Workers of America, which represents United Rubber Workers members, was incensed at the court decision. ``It's a terrible ruling,'' a union spokesman said. ``The courts are telling companies, `Abuse your workers all you want.'*''
In his comment, Mr. Reich said ``We don't want American service men and women in Bosnia trying to keep the peace while driving around on tires made by rookies and replacement workers,'' he said.
President Clinton, Mr. Reich added, has directed the Justice Department ``to take all appropriate steps to have this decision overturned.'' The department can appeal to the full, 11-member panel of the appeals court or directly to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Later, speaking at George Washington University to propose tax breaks for employers who actively improve employee skills and retrain laid-off workers, he said the government has ``got to give companies an economic reason'' to provide employees with the skills they need to survive in a rapidly changing economy.
Between instant communications, global competition and increasing pressure to maximize shareholder profit at the expense of everything else, corporate executives today have little choice but to downsize or move production offshore, according to Mr. Reich. But the effect of this is devastating to workers and communities trapped in the traditional, production-line economy, he said.