WASHINGTON -- Labor Secretary Lynn Martin said yesterday that the administration opposes union-supported legislation prohibiting companies from hiring permanent replacements for strikers, as a score of major companies have done in recent years.
Organized labor, which for years has seen its membership steadily erode, regards the use of replacement workers as a lethal threat to its power and has made banning the practice its highest priority in Congress this year.
A bill to do that, House Resolution 5, has 202 sponsors, nearly all Democrats, and could come to the full House for a vote before this summer.
"If the bill were presented to the president," Mrs. Martin told a hearing by a subcommittee of the House Education and Labor Committee, "his senior advisers would recommend a veto."
Current labor laws, she said, have established a healthy balance in employer-worker relations that suits the public interest. She said the legislation would leave "little incentive for unions to moderate the use of the strike weapon."
Martin's comments, the first from the administration on the legislation, were no surprise to Democrats in the House or to labor unions. But in threatening a veto so early in the legislative process and in leaving little apparent room for compromise, Mrs. Martin surprised some labor leaders.
"It's astounding that so early in the process they would recommend a veto," said John J. Sheehan, chief lobbyist for the United Steelworkers of America.
In a statement to the committee, Lane Kirkland, president of the AFL-CIO said current law gave management incentives to provoke strikes and get rid of unions and blunted the strike as labor's ultimate weapon in negotiating disputes.
"If an employer can replace strikers permanently, that negates the right to strike," said Rep. Major R. Owens, D-N.Y.
Rep. William L. Clay, a Missouri Democrat who is the author of the House bill, said: "She made it crystal clear. There is no room to negotiate."
Clay said there was little doubt the House would enact the bill. Prospects are less certain in the Senate.