Two defeated anti-worker proposals are expected to be back on Congress' agenda.
Like a zombie in a cheap horror movie, two proposals successfully killed before the summer recess may be revived in the fall session of Congress.
The first would deprive workfare participants of the same labor rights as other workers: minimum wage, nondiscrimination laws and health and safety protections. The second proposal would allow states to give private companies contracts to operate parts of Medicaid, Food Stamps, and Women, Infant and Children (WIC) programs.
These measures originally were put on the Washington agenda in the spring by state governors who claimed they could not afford the minimum wage and other em-ployer costs, and by conservative members of Congress who saw an opportunity to weaken labor laws.
At the time, Rep. Marge Roukema (R-N.J.) said that giving workfare participants the minimum wage and other benefits would "put an untenable burden on governors."
BIG PROFITS. Large defense contractors such as Lockheed Martin also played a strong, behind-the-scenes role in pushing for privatization. These companies stand to make big profits if they can run state welfare programs.
The labor movement, advocates for low-income Americans, congressional Democrats and the Adminis-tration forced congressional Re- publicans to abandon both efforts. But they are preparing to try again.
Presidential politics has also entered the picture. On the Republican side, House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) publicly pledged in late August to re-introduce legislation this fall. Meanwhile, Texas Gov. George W. Bush (R), another likely contender in the year 2000, has declared that he will try to privatize some welfare functions in his state with or without approval from Washington.
Speaking to AFSCME Council 61 in May, Vice Pres. Al Gore said, "I can assure you that this Administration will do what is best for recipients of public assistance and that this Administration will look out for the interests of the workers who devote their lives to helping those recipients."
Once and future GOP presidential hopeful Phil Gramm (R-Texas) responded to Gore's comments, saying: "Holding Texas hostage to the preferences of powerful labor unions and the equally powerful ambitions of the Vice President is deplorable."
Another presidential aspirant, Rep. Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.), also pledged his support for workfare workers: "Undermining the dignity of work hurts all workers. It benefits no worker if this nation tolerates the creation of any second-class workers."
JOB SECURITY. AFSCME opposed these measures in the spring and it opposes them now. Privatization of welfare functions would jeopardize the job security of tens of thousands of state employees in Texas and across the nation. It also could put a roadblock in the way of poor, elderly and disabled individuals seeking assistance: Private companies looking to cut costs could restrict benefits.
Denying such worker rights as minimum wage and safety protections to workfare participants would not only expose them to abuse, but could erode the jobs and benefits of current employees. An estimated 2 million workfare participants are expected to enter the workforce by the year 2002. Without benefits and protections, these workfare participants would be cheaper to employ than current workers.
In New York state, a former AFSCME member who was laid off from a position several years ago was put back into the same position through a workfare program earlier this year — but without the benefits. She is cheaper to employ on welfare than as a regular worker.
"We shouldn't view workfare as just a way to give people menial tasks," AFSCME Pres. Gerald W. McEntee recently told Council 52 in New Jersey. "What this union has been about since its inception has been to offer people a measure of decency and respect. By covering workfare workers under these basic labor laws, we can begin to give people a sense of pride, a sense of worth in the workplace."