Commentary: Workers are target of rules changes

This editorial appeared in The Miami Herald.

The torrent of new rules being issued by the Bush administration as it heads out the door is turning into a regulatory fiasco. The changes have lowered the bar on environmental review across the board, from limiting worker exposure to toxins to ignoring provisions of the Clean Water Act and softening, if not gutting, the Endangered Species Act. Late last week, new rules targeted vulnerable members of the labor force – farm workers.

The midnight changes have a sad history. At least since the days of the Carter administration, presidents have tried to extend their reach into the tenure of the next chief executive by putting in place last-minute rules that the successor will have difficulty rescinding. The fact that all presidents do it, however, does not excuse the regulatory end-run, especially when the rules seem like a favor to special interests rather than thoughtful changes in policy.

The new farm worker regulations are a case in point. Because farm workers don't enjoy the protections of the National Labor Relations Act, they have traditionally been prey to abuses that a succession of administrations have tried to correct through Labor Department policy rules. The latest changes don't augur well for the farm workers.

Rules that are to be published this week and which would take effect just days before President Bush leaves office would: make it easier to hire foreign "guest workers" – to the detriment of Americans willing to work in the fields; lower wage standards; and weaken oversight of farm hiring.

To read the complete editorial, visit The Miami Herald.