Federal File: William the Terrible?; Swapping slots

January 16, 1991 1 min read

Less than a week after formally taking over as chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, Representative William D. Ford found himself fighting a public-relations firestorm ignited by his treatment of the committee staff.

The Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call kindled it by publishing an article chiding the Michigan Democrat for summarily firing six aides, despite having championed a 1988 law requiring employers to give 60 days notice before firing workers.

The Congress is exempt, as is any entity with fewer than 50 workers.

But that didn’t stop The Wall Street Journal--or newspapers in Mr. Ford’s home state--from noting the contrast between what he said in 1988 and what he did in 1991.

“There isn’t an American worker ... who doesn’t deserve to be told 60 days before his or her job is eliminated,” Mr. Ford said during the debate.

“I had 38 phone calls yesterday,” said Michael Russell, Mr. Ford’s press secretary. “It just won’t go away.”

More than six people were let go, aides said, while pointing out that it is common for a new chairman to bring in new people.

In addition, they said, employees knew many months ago that the panel’s leadership was changing, and were formally told at least a month ago not to assume they would remain.

The aides added, however, that Mr. Ford has displayed a more authoritarian air than did the easygoing former chairman, Augustus F. Hawkins.

For example, Mr. Ford has decreed that only employees with American-made cars will be assigned parking spaces, an edict that also applies to Republican staff.

“There are very few dictatorships left in the world these days, but we have it here,” one committee aide said.

Committee aides say another flap may be developing over subcommittee chairmanships.

They say Representative Pat Williams, the Montana Democrat who lost the leadership of the Postsecondary Education panel when Mr. Ford decided to take it, wants to head the Subcommittee on Labor-Management Relations, whose former chairman had to relinquish the post.

Rumor has it that Mr. Williams was quite unhappy to learn that Representative Austin J. Murphy, Democrat of Pennsylvania, may want to swap his current assignment on Labor Standards for the one Mr. Williams is eyeing.

Mr. Murphy has seniority, and Mr. Williams may be searching for a third choice.--j.m.

A version of this article appeared in the January 16, 1991 edition of Education Week as Federal File: William the Terrible?; Swapping slots