Anybody who knows me in real life (IRL) or online knows my politics skew left of center.
But I give the recently departed George H.W. Bush credit where credit due for the Americans with Disabilities Act and Civil Rights Act of 1991.
The Americans with Disabilities Act has given disabled workers protections in the workplace. When coupled with the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the ADA has been particularly helpful to workers hurt on the job who had to miss work because of work injuries.
The Civil Rights Act of 1991 amended Title VII and the ADA to allow for jury trials in those cases and to allow for compensatory and punitive damages in those cases. In short, discrimination cases became worth more.
Bush vetoed and denounced the Civil Rights Act of 1990 as a “quota” bill, but his support of the 1991 Civil Rights Bill lead to strong backlash among the white nationalist wing of the GOP and prominent figures in that wing including former Klansman David Duke. TV commentator Pat Buchannan picked up Duke’s banner of racial resentment and challenged H.W. Bush in the 1992 Republican Presidential primary.
H.W. Bush doesn’t deserve some posthumous profile in courage for his support of civil rights legislation. He played to racial prejudice with his attacks on Mike Dukakis over Willie Horton.
H.W. Bush also governed with a Democratic congress for the entirety of his term. Any kudos that he gets for the ADA and the Civil Rights Act of 1991 need to be shared with Democratic legislators such as Ted Kennedy and Tom Harkin.
H.W. Bush’s judicial appointments also generally interpreted the ADA and Title VII that made it harder for employees to effectuate their substantive rights. In fact, the ADA was gutted so bad by federal courts that Congress basically had to re-pass the ADA in 2008.
H.W Bush also presided during a decline in unionization that began in his predecessor Ronald Reagan’s term and continue to his day. He didn’t do anything to slow this trend and his appointments to the NLRB and his trade policies certainly accelerated the trend. In many respects, unions provide more protections on the job than civil rights laws.
But the said fact is that no major civil rights laws have been passed since H.W Bush was President. This time period included the 16 years of the Clinton and Obama presidencies. While it is true that Clinton and Obama did tend to appoint judges and administrative officials who tend to be more favorable to employee rights, it’s hard to argue that Clinton and Obama appointees are employee-advocates when it comes to things like whistleblower law and pensions.
The Obama administration did make some federal rule changes that were favorable to employees, but since the Obama administration slow-walked these changes they were vulnerable to repeal during the Trump administration.
Neither Clinton nor Obama did much of anything to reverse the decline of unionization. Obama did next to nothing to support legislation to make it easier to organize unions when he had a near-super majority of Democrats in the Senate in the first two years of his term.
I’ve thought over the last few days about how to conclude this post. I believe that workplace rights laws are generally popular with voters. Then best way to promote workplace fairness is to fight for broad based workplace rights legislation. Relying on the judicial branch and executive action is a por substitute for legislation. Even a pro-business Republican like George H.W. Bush will not completely oppose the will of the people as expressed by Congress.