John Mclaughlin's "One on One" - Complete Chao transcript released

Copyright 2001 Federal News Service, Inc. Federal News Service

March 23, 2001, Friday


LENGTH: 4678 words






BODY: MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The season of discontent.

Spring is here, and summer's on the way, and it's not just the geese who are taking to the air. Record numbers of Americans have plans for air travel, and a record number of airline unions are ready to strike. The Bush administration is headed towards a showdown with labor.

Can the travel crisis be averted, or will strikes paralyze our airports? And what is the employment outlook for our troubled economy? We'll ask Labor Secretary Elaine Chao.

ANNOUNCER: The biggest obstacle to feeding the world is not the food supply; it's just politics. Who is dedicated to opening the borders to get food to the people who need it?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Secretary Chao, welcome.

SEC. CHAO: Yes. Thank you.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What is the story on nuclear-ill workers that has been getting a few headlines?

SEC. CHAO: Well, you know, I am very, very concerned with the plight of workers -- energy workers who have worked in these energy and nuclear plants. I mean, they have been wonderful in terms of dedicating their lives to the service of their country, and now they are ill. And we have a responsibility to take care of them. And in 2000, October of 2000, this past year, the Congress passed an Energy Worker Compensation Act, basically to take care of these nuclear workers who have been injured on the job. The executive order was promulgated around December 7th of last year.

In the statute, the Department of Labor is not mentioned as the agency that needs to take the lead and have the responsibility for this new law and this new responsibility, but the executive order issued under the previous administration put it under Labor.

I am very concerned about the ability of the Department of Labor to carry out this mission. And there's a deadline -- there's a May 31st deadline for setting up the program. There's also a July 1st deadline for getting out the checks.

As of now, the Department of Labor has no capability, no infrastructure, to handle this. And I'm concerned about these workers, that they be taken care of, and that they receive what is due them.

Justice, on the other hand, has a program already. They're -- you know, they have something that's called the Radiation Exposure Act of 1990. And --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Under that act, these --

SEC. CHAO: Under that act, they have the -- they have experience.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So claims have been made by victims of nuclear radiation.

SEC. CHAO: Yeah. Yes.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How many are there?

SEC. CHAO: Oh, I think there are hundreds of thousands. So it's quite substantial. It's a real issue. It's a real issue.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Now, some of those were employees involved in the Nevada testing --

SEC. CHAO: Absolutely.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- of a military usage of nuclear weaponry; correct?

SEC. CHAO: In the service of their country, yes.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Right. In fact, all of these workers were connected with the military application of nuclear energy, is that correct?

SEC. CHAO: Yes, absolutely.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: There were some miners of uranium involved.

SEC. CHAO: Right.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But about half the number -- correct me if I've misread this -- about half the number were not actually employees, but they were downwind and they suffered from having been downwind?

SEC. CHAO: That's right. That's right. So these are people who really need to be -- they have been wronged. There are real injuries. And we need to take care of them.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Right. Now, the last application for relief from the government, which they're entitled to under the terms of the act, when did that last application appear?

SEC. CHAO: You mean the -- the act was 1990 --


SEC. CHAO: And that was -- that gave the responsibility to the Justice Department.


SEC. CHAO: The whole issue is about --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But what I'm saying is, the last time anyone applied for this was in 1971, is that correct?


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So this goes considerably back.

SEC. CHAO: Right.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Now, the current dispute in which the Labor Department is involved is over the question of who is to take charge of this situation.

SEC. CHAO: Who is best able to take care of these workers. And that's the issue.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You received a letter from Representative Ted Strickland, a Democrat --

SEC. CHAO: No, I never did. It's in the papers, but I've never seen it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: (Laughs.) You haven't seen it?

SEC. CHAO: No, I haven't seen it yet.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, let me tell you what Ted Strickland and the eight other members of the House of Representatives are saying. They're saying that your effort this past week to move this matter to the Justice Department from the Labor Department contradicts what President Clinton put into effect -- when? --last December?

SEC. CHAO: December 7th.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And he gave the Department of Labor jurisdiction over the program in an executive order issued in December.

SEC. CHAO: That is quite true. But on the other hand, the Department of Labor has no ability to carry out this program. There is a deadline, as I mentioned, of May 31st to set up the program; there's a deadline of July 1st to have checks out the door. We would have to build, establish, create a whole new office and a whole new process for helping these workers, because the issue here is what's called Dose Reconstruction. This is not
a simple issue.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: D-O-S-E Reconstruction?

SEC. CHAO: I guess so, right.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What does that mean?

SEC. CHAO: Well, it's not like workman compensation, which of course the Department of Labor is in charge of. Workman compensation involves a particular -- a discrete injury, like a broken arm, broken leg. It's discrete in time as well as an injury.

But with radiation exposure, we would basically -- someone would basically have to go back decades and try to reconstruct how this exposure came about, when did it come about, how much was the worker exposed. There are very complicated tables. We don't have that capability.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And that is the meaning of the world dose -- D- O-S-E --what dosage of radiation did you receive. And reconstructing that is not easy to do.

SEC. CHAO: It's very difficult.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Very time-consuming.

SEC. CHAO: And the Justice Department has this capability already. And so I am just concerned about the workers.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, you know, Strickland says in his letter -- the fantasy -- the phantom letter which you have not yet received, Strickland says that when the members -- as I read it -- when the members drew up -- and I'm reading from a news account. I don't have the letter either. When the members drew up this legislation in 1990, their intention was for this to sit with the Department of Labor.

Do you have any reason to believe that?

SEC. CHAO: No, it was given to Justice. Well, the statute said it was given to Justice.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The statute says that?

SEC. CHAO: Oh, yes. The statute says give it to Justice --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, you notice that some senators have gotten into the act, too.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Notably, Senator Mike DeWine of Ohio, and George Voinovich, Ohio, and Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

SEC. CHAO: No, that's not true.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is Mitch not involved? (Laughs.)

SEC. CHAO: I don't think so. (Chuckles.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I'm joking about Mitch. He's your husband.

SEC. CHAO: Yes, he is.


But the other two senators --

SEC. CHAO: I care deeply about this issue. I mean, I'm a Kentuckian, and there are Kentucky workers that are affected by this. So this is by no means any attempt to deflect responsibility. I am passionate about this issue. I want these workers to be taken care of, and I have very serious concerns that the Department of Labor is unable to take care of these workers, and I want these workers to be taken care of.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You're saying that there is an existing entity within the Justice Department, there is the -- correct?


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And there is existing manpower there --

SEC. CHAO: They have the expertise --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- there is existing expertise there.

SEC. CHAO: They have the experience.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You don't have it?

SEC. CHAO: We don't have it. And this comes from our career professionals. We cannot -- I can tell you right now, and, you know, we're working ahead as if we have the responsibility, so even with, you know, our preparation, we are beginning to know already that we cannot meet the deadline of July 1st in terms of sending all those checks. I'm saying that right now: We don't have the capability and we're going to miss that deadline and the workers are not going to get their checks on July 1st. And I'm concerned about that.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, who is going to resolve the matter?

SEC. CHAO: I think the White House is going to have to take a look at it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Have they indicated to you which way they are leaning?

SEC. CHAO: I think on a substantive issue, I don't think there's very much doubt about that. This is obviously --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You think the statute speaks for itself?

SEC. CHAO: The statute does not mention Department of Labor. It was only through an executive order --


SEC. CHAO: -- that Labor was tasked with it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But does the statute in any way -- I thought you indicated that the statute directed it to the Justice Department?

SEC. CHAO: RECA -- the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act of 1990 --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Right. Right.

SEC. CHAO: -- directed it to Justice.


SEC. CHAO: Yeah, in 1990.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Why do you think Clinton took that step and moved it to Labor?

SEC. CHAO: Well, I think organized labor certainly would like to have this within their portfolio. I think they would be much more involved in health care issues. And they're concerned about, I think, finding a much more -- perhaps a friendly environment. But I have no problem with that. I want to do the job. I just want to do the right thing, and I'm just concerned that our department is ill-equipped and unable to help these workers who deserve help. That's my main point.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, do you think that this was -- this movement to the Department of Labor was a political effort on President Clinton's part in order to woo labor by conceding to labor's preference?

SEC. CHAO: Well, I wasn't there, but I wouldn't be surprised.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You wouldn't be surprised if President Clinton could have been politically motivated in taking the actions he could; do you feel that that's a reasonable --

SEC. CHAO: I think it's possible.


We'll be right back.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The new secretary of Labor, Elaine Chao, who's with us today, has an initiative of her own. She calls it the Office of the 21st Century Workplace. What does this mean? What is the office's mission? Is Madame Secretary trying to anticipate future trends? But has her enthusiasm for the new economy, which is bound up in this office, been dampened by the dot-com bust that we all -- are all suffering through?

She'll answer those question in a moment, but first, here is the profile of our distinguished guest:

Born: Taipei, Taiwan. Emigrated at the age of 8. Forty-seven years of age. Husband: Addison Mitchell McConnell, three-term Republican U.S. senator from Kentucky. Protestant. Republican.

Mount Holyoke College, B.A. Harvard University, MBA.

BankAmerica, vice president, two years.

Reagan administration, Department of Transportation, various posts, including deputy secretary, five years. Reagan administration, Federal Maritime Commission, chairman, one year.

Bush Sr. administration, Peace Corps, director, one year.

United Way of America, president, four years. Heritage Foundation, distinguished fellow, five years.

Bush administration, secretary of Labor, two months and currently.

Elaine Lan Chao.

Secretary Elaine Lan Chao, you've held a number of very distinguished posts in your short lifetime.

SEC. CHAO: I've been very blessed.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How do the challenges of the Labor Department rank against the challenges of the other positions of great responsibility that you have held?

SEC. CHAO: I've been very blessed. You know, I have had a tremendous opportunity to work in the for-profit, nonprofit, as well the government sector. And I view all these challenges really as wonderful opportunities.

I have to say one of my toughest jobs was to turn around United Way of America. I took over United Way of America during a very, very painful period in its history, and it was a period of great turmoil. But with the help of volunteers and the professional staff at United Way, we turned it around and restored overall giving and also launched a new strategic plan.

So that actually was a very good experience in what I'm about to do now, because through United Way, I was able to meet with and work with a number of organized labor leaders. On the United Way board, for example, I had John Sweeney on the board; Mort Bahr, who was head of the Communications Workers of America; Vince Dombrado (sp), Joe -- Moe Biller (sp); Lynn Williams, who was head of United Steelworkers of America at the time. And so we worked together -- and very well, I might add -- for charitable causes, in raising money and in working with the United Way.

So I know them, and I think they know me. And we have had some time to understand each other, and I think that's very helpful in my current role, going ahead.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, one of those you mentioned, Morton Bahr --


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- had some nice things to say about you. Here's a quote, which you can see on the screen.

SEC. CHAO: Well, Mort and I have had --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: "I believe she will be responsive to the needs of working families. We look forward to working with her." She -- he's the president of the Communications Workers of America.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, it's nice to know that there's a love-fest going on between you and big union labor.

SEC. CHAO: Well, I'm not so sure it's a love-fest. I think we understand each other. We have worked well together in the past on areas of commonalities and common interest. They know that I'm a conservative --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, you know that big labor --


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- is somewhat in eclipse because they tied all of their fortunes to the Democratic Party, and the Democratic Party is not in power in any branch of the government.

Now here is the question as it pinpoints on you. Traditionally, a Labor secretary and other secretaries in the Cabinet are expected to be quasi-advocates, if that's the right word, friendly towards the constituency to which the president wishes to relate under conditions that provide for pragmatic and realistic solutions to problems. Right? That's your role with labor.

SEC. CHAO: With --


SEC. CHAO: With the total labor force.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right. Well, right now we're talking about the union labor force.

SEC. CHAO: Yeah, sure.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And your point is well taken, because there's a non-union labor force.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: There's the right-to-work contingent.

SEC. CHAO: Right.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And you represent all of labor. But when you -- are you able, with President Bush, who is a conservative, and who is not, I think, the -- I know, we all know, was not the chosen candidate of American labor -- big labor today, union labor, are you able to kind of carry that or walk that tightrope so that you can --

SEC. CHAO: Sure. Absolutely. Sure.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- on the one hand, represent Sweeney --

SEC. CHAO: I don't represent Mr. Sweeney. He and I have worked together very well in the past, but I don't represent him.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But you have to carry his water, don't you, to some extent?

SEC. CHAO: Oh, I think Mr. Sweeney is big enough to carry his own water.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, you do have to represent his interests to the president.

SEC. CHAO: Well, certainly, I'm -- I have always said that my door is open. I want to keep the channels of communications open. I want to listen to the concerns of the workforce, organized and unorganized.

Organized labor comprises, as you had alluded to, about 10 percent -- 9 percent of the private sector, about 13 percent in the overall workforce. So I will of course work with them and listen to their concerns. They are one of my many constituencies, and I will certainly do that.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, what do you think is going to happen if, as is projected, airlines go on strike? And that would include pilots, it would include flight attendants --

SEC. CHAO: Sure.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- and it would include also maintenance personnel, mechanical workers who work on the engines, et cetera, of the planes. That's -- that would mean, of course, a basic destabilization -- further -- of our economy -- resort hotels, theme parks, the whole variety of institutions that would be affected --and it would certainly drive us, if there's any doubt, into a recession, would it not?

Now is the president going to take a tough line when it comes to that, if it comes to that? Is he going to behave like Reagan did when Reagan was dealing with PATCO, which was the air traffic controllers, and put 11,000 of them out of work?

SEC. CHAO: Am I going to answer the question? (Laughs.)

Oh, absolutely. You know, the president's concerned about the overall vitality of the workforce and, of course, of the economy. How many of us have been air traffic -- air travelers? And we have been complaining about how awful it is to travel already. I mean, complaints are rampant about how congested our skies are, how awful it is --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, that's a different issue.

SEC. CHAO: No, it's the same issue.

How awful -- you know, the air congestion is, and how many of us have missed our flights, how many of us have been delayed in our flights, how many of us have actually spent nights at airports.

The airline industry is in very bad shape at this point. There are tremendous delays and congestions which are impacting the productivity of our country. And if there were to be an airline strike involving all these different workers, I think the president's going to have a real challenge in responding to the consumer cries that they want this issue resolved. They are already under tremendous pressure under ordinary traveling circumstances, and if these additional labor unrests will add or paralyze our country's airways, then it's of concern, it's of very great concern.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What will he do? What will he do?

SEC. CHAO: Well, I don't want to jump to conclusions at this point. Obviously, the collective bargaining process is ongoing, and so let's see what the collective bargaining process will bring.

But let me just say that, you know, this president, as has been mentioned, that this president has invoked the words of the "Presidential Emergency Board", PEB. But it was President Clinton who invoked the PEB for the first time in over 30 years.

What's going to happen now is that we may have major airline strikes during Easter, a period when families should be reuniting with one another, when families are going to be flying across country. And instead of, you know, spending Easter dinner with their families, they may very well be stuck at an airport overnight, with no food at all. So, I mean, this --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's your advice to people who will be traveling during this season, this upcoming season?

SEC. CHAO: Well, let's not -- I think they need to be careful. I think they need to check the airlines. But right now, you know, there is already a lot of potential loss in passenger revenues already.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think they should repose in the comfort of knowing that their president will not let this happen?

SEC. CHAO: Well, let's see what the collective bargaining yields.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Now let me ask you this about --

SEC. CHAO: But may I also say that these airline strikes are not within the Department of Labor primary responsibility. The Department of Transportation has the lead --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you want to move this over to the Justice Department?

SEC. CHAO: (Chuckling) No, no, no. No, I mean, it's under the National Railway Laborers Act, so all airline strikes are in fact --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Oh, you don't think you're going to be right squarely in the middle of this?

SEC. CHAO: No, I'm going to be involved, oh, absolutely. I am going to be involved. But I'm just saying that I don't want to step on somebody else's turf. So let me make it very clear that the Department of Transportation has the lead on the airline strikes. We, of course, will be involved. But I just want to be -- I want to be respectful of my fellow Cabinet member, too. Let me just put it that way.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The Department of Transportation?


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you know him?

SEC. CHAO: Yes, of course. I worked with him.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think alike?

SEC. CHAO: Secretary Mineta was my chairman when I was at the Department of Transportation as a deputy secretary over 12 years ago. So we have worked well together.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Answer this question for me.

SEC. CHAO: Sure.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The president has emergency powers. They were used by Reagan towards air traffic controllers. It was clear, I think by statute, however, that air traffic controllers fell within his power.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Now, is it also clear that the president would have that kind of emergency control over pilots?

SEC. CHAO: Well, this situation, in terms of the PEB, is a little bit different in that the National Mediation Board, which is an independent regulatory -- independent body, has to make the recommendation to the White House. So the recommendation for the PEB has to come from them first.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We'll be right back.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is Senator Mitch McConnell, your husband, envious of you and your job? After all --

SEC. CHAO: Oh, no. Not all.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- you're only one of 14 and he's one of 100.

SEC. CHAO: Well, he has been practicing the gaze of the adoring spouse. And in fact, I've heard that he's been studying Nancy Reagan tapes!

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: In order to --

SEC. CHAO: In order to be the adoring spouse. So I'm very proud of him. He's very supportive, and we have a wonderful marriage and I feel very pleased.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, I think we're all proud of him.

SEC. CHAO: Thank you.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Thanks so much for being my guest, and good luck.

SEC. CHAO: Thank you so much.



MR. MCLAUGHLIN: President Bush takes the position, Secretary Chao, that any campaign finance reform legislation should include paycheck protection; namely, a provision that allows union members to decide whether they want any of their union dues used for political contributions. Do you support that?

SEC. CHAO: Well I, of course, support what the president proposes. I think this is clearly an amendment that organized labor does not like. Basically, this is a very simple provision, and it's all about disclosure, and it's about giving union members the ability to decide where they want the union dues to go. And if a union member doesn't want to have his or her dues go to a political cause which he or she does not support, then the worker will be able to have the ability to say no, and make that decision.

Again, it's an issue about disclosure, and it's an issue that gives the union workers the ability to decide where their own union dues should go.

You know, it's interesting, about 40 percent of organized labor vote Republican. And I think that their leaders need to understand that and also reflect more the tendencies of their own members.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Forty percent of what percentage of the total labor force?

SEC. CHAO: No, 40 percent of organized labor, approximately --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Right. And 40 percent of organized labor. What percentage of the total labor force today is organized labor?

SEC. CHAO: Organized labor has about 13 percent, 9 percent of whom are in the private sector, 4 percent of whom are in government.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let's take that 87 percent that are not union.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What percentage of the 87 percent vote Republican?

SEC. CHAO: Well, they -- working men and women are us; we are them. There is no distinction. All of us are working men and women. So when you ask how many of them reflect one party's philosophy versus another, it's the general population. So --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So it's about -- right now, the Republicans are practically even with the Democrats.

SEC. CHAO: It's about pretty much even. Yeah. Yes, very much so. But --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Those are interesting statistics.

SEC. CHAO: It is.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let me ask you this. You've got some good news in this period where things seem so grim on the financial side, on the economic side. You do have some good news, and that relates to unemployment. Right?

SEC. CHAO: Well, as I mentioned -- and I'm looking very hard for areas of commonality. I've worked very well with labor in the past. I want to work well with organized labor in the future. I have tremendous respect for them, because, you know, when they're with you, they're really with you.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, I'm --

SEC. CHAO: And so I've launched a new initiative that I hope that they will also join in and help, and that's called the 21st Century Workforce. I hear from CEOs and from workers and management that this is a new economy, that we have, you know, a tremendous number of high-skill jobs that go begging --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, this -- yeah --

SEC. CHAO: -- and thousands and thousands of Americans that don't have the skills to fill them.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah. Have you had the opportunity to observe what's happened to the NASDAQ lately?

SEC. CHAO: I was on the board of the NASDAQ, so I know very well. Markets are going to go up and down, but overall --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Oh, you think the NASDAQ's going to come back?

SEC. CHAO: Oh, sure.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: When do you think it's going to come back?

SEC. CHAO: Well, I'm not going to bet on that, but I'll bet you, over the next 10 years, it's going to come back, and it's going to have --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Next 10 years?

SEC. CHAO: Absolutely.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You mean on the far side of the 10, rather than the near side of the 10?

SEC. CHAO: I'm not making any prognostication. But what I am saying is, markets are going to go up and down. But that does not detract from the more important issue as to where our workforce is going.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Are you --

SEC. CHAO: Our workforce now is increasingly mobile. It's more flexible. And a person now may hold five to seven jobs in their lifetime, versus the one that a generation ago of workers used to hold. And so we need to talk about the skills gap, and that is, again, high --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, before we get into kind of an hysteria of approval of the new economy, you know that the old economy still accounts for 90 percent of the American workforce.

SEC. CHAO: Sure.


SEC. CHAO: Well, 94,000 --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So the 10 percent you're talking about is going to be the area of your concern?

SEC. CHAO: No, no, no, not at all. I'm trying to -- what I'm saying is, we need to look ahead and prepare America, our country, for a new workplace reality. And I'm asking -- and labor has been very, very cooperative about it. We're talking about a 21st century workforce. We're talking about closing the skills gaps. We're talking about upcoming worker shortage. All of that will be the focus of this new initiative.


LOAD-DATE: March 24, 2001