Workers Are Catching On

By Peter Wallsten, LA Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Osvaldo Millet makes a good living — $43 an hour plus overtime — as a hospital pharmacist in Miami. The overtime pays for vacations and other extras for his family of five, but that money might disappear under a Bush administration initiative.

Jeff Deckard is a member of the National Rifle Assn. who voted for Ronald Reagan and isn’t fond of the Democratic Party’s more liberal views. But the Reynoldsburg, Ohio, electrician has soured on President Bush. Deckard is out of work and his unemployment checks will soon end if the Republican-led Congress doesn’t extend benefits.

The worries of Millet and Deckard reflect a political challenge for Bush as he increasingly pins his reelection hopes on the fruits of a recovering economy that has posted nine consecutive months of job gains.

Bush is an unabashedly pro-business president. But he is also working to forge an image as a friend of the American worker, part of his effort to win such battleground states as Florida, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

However, some of his policies — including new overtime regulations and his push to eliminate rules designed to reduce repetitive-stress injuries — carry a risk of alienating voters who otherwise would lean toward supporting him.

“It doesn’t seem to me that he looks out for the working person,” said Millet, 43, a Cuban-born Republican who has never voted for a Democratic candidate for president but is now considering doing so.

And Deckard already has begun voting for Democratic candidates because he is unhappy with how GOP workplace policies are affecting him.

On the campaign trail, the president has cited recent job gains, tax cuts and his support for worker retraining programs. Administration officials have said that workers are safer and more financially secure than before Bush took office, with workplace injuries at an all-time low and back wages collected on behalf of workers at an 11-year high.

But even some supporters of the administration said that Bush has often favored the interests of business over those of labor — a fact that they like.

“When it comes to business-versus-labor issues,” said Stephen Moore of the Club for Growth, an advocacy group that favors low taxes and limited government, “Bush has been down the line pro-business in a way that we think is praiseworthy.”

‘Nine consecutive months of job gains’ tranlates into this: it has taken 9 months to regain less than a third of the jobs that were lost in the first three years of the Bush Administration, which–do the math–means that it would take another year-and-a-half of similar record gains every month just to get back to where we were when he took office. Workers may be a little slow to catch on to tricks and dodges, but we’re not stupid. Eventually, we get it.

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