Ann Dore McLaughlin told the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee yesterday that while she has no labor relations experience she is "uniquely qualified" to be secretary of labor because, as a woman, she has firsthand experience with the problems of the modern work force.
McLaughlin, President Reagan's choice to succeed William E. Brock III as labor secretary, breezed through a confirmation hearing that lasted less than an hour. The committee is expected to vote on her nomination today.
Since being selected by Reagan last month, McLaughlin has reminded those who question her lack of experience that a nominee does not have to be in the labor movement to be familiar with the issues of the modern workplace -- in which two of every three new jobs are filled by a woman or a minority.
McLaughlin told the committee yesterday that she would compensate for her lack of specific knowledge in the labor field by seeking the counsel of experts in the field.
"Skills are transferable," said McLaughlin, who has won a reputation as a good manager during her years in government service. She served as an assistant secretary of the treasury and undersecretary of the interior during the first six years of the Reagan administration. Until she assumed the interior post in 1984, most of her career had been spent in corporate or government public relations.
There were no tough questions for McLaughlin at yesterday's hearing. Democrats and Republicans on the committee praised her record of government service and indicated she will have no trouble being confirmed.
Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), noting the gentle nature of the questioning, told McLaughlin to "cherish this moment, Ann, because at the rate we're going, this hearing may be one of the high-water marks in your relations with this committee."
Committee Chairman Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) asked McLaughlin what she hoped to achieve as labor secretary. She said there are three areas in which she wants to concentrate her efforts: reviewing the department's enforcement responsibilities; galvanizing labor, management and government behind the issues affecting the work force and promoting education and training.
Despite the lack of opposition to her nomination, McLaughlin can expect some hard times next year in her dealings with the committee. As labor secretary, she will be expected to deliver the Reagan administration position on controversial legislative issues such as child care, parental leave, mandated health insurance, job training and a proposal to increase the federal minimum wage.
Organized labor has not opposed the McLaughlin nomination, with top AFL-CIO officials saying they expect McLaughlin to be no different from Brock, who essentially opposed most of labor's legislative proposals. But like Brock, McLaughlin is expected to keep up contacts between the department and organized labor.
In the first five years of the Reagan administration, when Raymond J. Donovan served as labor secretary, unions complained they had no access to the department or administration officials. When Brock took over the department two years ago he spent much of his time reestablishing communications with organized labor.
McLaughlin made it clear yesterday she is not a fan of government intervention. On the child care issue, she said she would "work aggressively with communities, state and local governments, employers and unions to increase the availability of quality child care." But she said she is convinced the problem cannot be solved by mandatory federal programs.
"I salute those businesses which have examined their employment policies and practices to help enhance family life and values," she said in advocating voluntarism.
She also told the committee that she, like Brock, would stress an economic policy based on "free and fair trade as a vital component to an expanding economy." She emphasized the need to enact the administration's Worker Readjustment Program, which would provide nearly $1 billion in training aid for dislocated workers.
When McLaughlin is confirmed, Reagan will again have a woman as a Cabinet member. Elizabeth Hanford Dole resigned as transportation secretary in September to work on the 1988 presidential campaign of her husband, Sen. Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.).