Let's Create American Workers' Desks in Federal Agencies

By David North on April 19, 2012

Here's an old idea — left over from the Kennedy years — that should be revived: Let's create top-level American Workers' Desks in each of the federal agencies extending big subsidies and big contracts to big business.

The (admittedly negative) inspiration for this thought came from a CBS News story titled "Unions say foreign workers get stimulus jobs". This bit of investigative journalism revealed that while federal stimulus money had been poured into Michigan factories owned by two Korean firms, LG Chem and Dow Kokam, many of the jobs created went to newly arrived Korean migrant workers.

Typically, it is safe to assume, the arrangements for such subsidies are made by federal officials interested in closing the deal, but distant from the concerns of the American labor market. The officials were probably in the U.S. Treasury Department, where one senses that too many of the staff think like their peers on Wall Street.

What they should have done was to write into the contract a provision that, say, no more than 2 percent of the jobs at the subsidized factories could be filled by nonimmigrant workers of any kind, and none could be filled with illegal aliens. Further, I-9 screening would be mandatory and the firms would be required to report publicly every six or 12 months on the composition of their work force, by civil status, gender, and age.

All this could have been done by the Obama administration without the need for legislation. The government as a subsidizer or as a purchaser, always has rather more flexibility than the government as a regulator.

Would that have been revolutionary? Hardly.

Let's think about how the Kennedy administration handled a couple of somewhat similar challenges: on-going and persistent racial discrimination by government contractors and big business's routine disregard for depressed areas.

It is useful to recall in this connection that the big civil rights laws of later years had not been passed at this point, and that the Kennedys felt some obligation to the people in the hollows of Appalachia, areas that they experienced rather vividly when the Catholic president-to-be defeated Protestant Hubert Humphrey in the West Virginia primary of 1960, with that state being perhaps the most Protestant state in the union.

The Kennedy administration, once in office, used its power over federal purchasing contracts with corporations to create the President's Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity through Executive Order 10925 in March 1961; that entity was a forerunner of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission created later by legislation. The president's committee started the process of making sure that blacks and other minorities in the contractors' work forces were treated fairly.

At about the same time, and aimed at bringing some federal money into Appalachia, the Kennedy Defense Department created, within the Office of the Secretary of Defense, a little entity then led by a friend of mine, a rising young politician from Michigan, Ron Linton. The purpose of that office was to push big defense contractors into extending subcontracts to firms in the depressed hills of the Appalachians. Again, this was done without the need for any legislation.

Both of these Kennedy-era initiatives could be used, right now, to model similar entities designed to see to it that those corporations subsidized by Washington treat resident legal workers fairly and don't overuse the foreign worker programs that routinely give something approximating blank checks to American corporations.

Will the Obama administration do this? I doubt it, for it would mean silently casting aspersions on the mass-migration programs they prefer.