As plans were being laid to try to recall her from office, City Council member Willie J. Hardy (D-Ward 7) yesterday defended her handling of a strongly probusiness workers' compensation bill and attacked her labor union critics as "nonthinking, nondoing individuals."
Hardy's statement came in response to a Monday press conference in which the Central Labor Council called for her censure and recall based on her "collusion" with the business community and her "betrayal of her constituents," according to Labor Council President Robert E. Petersen.
The press conference was called as a result of published reports last week that a lobbyist for the Metropolitan Washington Board of Trade had drafted much of Hardy's workers' compensation bill.
"I am amazed at the shallowness and lack of leadership abilities of the Central Labor Council, who has called for me to be censured," Hardy said in a three-page statement.
"The workers' compensation bill, which I introducted, is my attempt to solve a problem head on: the problem of our small and minority businesses being forced out of our neighborhoods," Hardy said.
Those small businesses are being forced out, she said, ". . . because the payments into the workers' compensation fund, among other exorbitant taxes, were increasing at such a phenomenal rate, they [small businesses] were being forced to pass the costs on to consumers and many were thinking of leaving the city and (taking) their businesses to Maryland or Virginia where the demands are much less."
In her statement, Hardy cited two small businesses in her ward whose annual workers' compensation insurance premiums had leaped from several hundred dollars in 1972 to nearly $3,000 this year.
Those premium escalations reflect increases generally to District employers, whose workers' compensation costs have jumped 500 percent since 1972 when Congress liberalized benefits and adjusted the system for inflation.
Hardy picked up support this week from the Associated Minority Contractors, whose president, Milton G. Carey, said that the labor attack on Hardy ". . . is a deliberate attempt to shift the focus of public debate from the proposed law to Ms. Hardy as an individual."
Meanwhile, Central Labor Council officials said they are moving forward with plans to circulate petitions in Ward 7 to recall Hardy from office.
"Our attorneys are now looking at the law. They are writing up the petition," said Josh Williams, director of the labor council's political arm. Williams said he would meet with election board officials Tuesday to seek approval of the wording of recall petitions.
The labor clash with Hardy marks the first attempt to use the city's new recall law, which went into effect earlier this month.
One of the labor council officials coordinating the petition drive in Ward 7 will be Geraldine Boykin, director of Council 20 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employes.
"We received hundreds of calls on this bill from Ward 7 people very disturbed at the thought of any council member introducing a piece of legislation that would take away their rights," Boykin said.
Under the recall law, the labor groups would have to obtain the signatures of 3,041 registered Ward 7 voters (10 percent of the 30,409 total registered voters) to call an election.
Also yesterday, the labor council completed its formal written request for Hardy's censure to City Council Chairman Arrington Dixon. In that letter, the labor group also seeks to have the workers' compensation bill reassigned to a committee chaired by Wilhelmina Rolark (D-Ward 8), who has a strong prolabor philosophy.
It is too early to tell whether strong support exists among Ward 7 voters for the recall effort. But some apparently are chafing over the deep cuts that Hardy's bill would make in workers' benefits.
"I feel awful that one of my own wants to take away benefits from the people," said Ward 7 resident Marjorie Payne, who said she has worked in Hardy election campaigns. Now, said Payne, "I'm going to be one of the ones that's going to help get her out of office."
At the Board of Trade, where a lobbyist's position paper was lifted verbatim and tendered as the "report" of Hardy's housing and economic development committee, the incident has evoked surprise.
Board of Trade President Oliver T. Carr Jr. said the board will continue to submit its position papers to the City Council. "It's perfectly appropriate that they [position papers] influence the manner in which legislation is drafted, but certainly not on a verbatim basis," said Carr.
Another senior Board of Trade Official said he does not expect the Hardy bill to progress for some time "because it is too hot.
"This is going to frighten some of the people who were leaning toward the bill away out of fear of being characterized as Board of Trade people," the official said. "It was handled poorly," the official added. "Willie is not the most astute person in the world."
Hardy said yesterday that she does not know when she will bring the bill up for a committee vote. She said she has "some more educating to do." CAPTION: Picture, WILLIE J. HARDY . . . faces call for censure