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The Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces order, which makes "it harder for companies to win federal contracts if they violate their workers' rights and withhold their wages," is now a target for Republicans in Congress. (Photo: Unitarian Universalist Service Committee/flickr/cc)

GOP Deregulating Frenzy Takes Aim at Fair Pay and Safety Rules for Workers

'Contractors that kill and injure workers' stand to benefit from repeal of Obama's Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces executive order, says one observer

Andrea Germanos

Furthering the administration's anti-worker agenda (and its "deconstruction of the administrative state"), the U.S. Senate is poised on Monday to block an Obama-era executive order that ensures federal contractors adhere to labor laws, even as a new report from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) underscores the need for the order by documenting repeated violations by companies that held federal contracts.

The Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces order, signed by President Barack Obama in 2014 and effective in 2016, makes "it harder for companies to win federal contracts if they violate their workers' rights and withhold their wages" by making "companies that apply for federal contracts larger than half a million dollars [...] disclose any major labor law violations they or their subcontractors have committed in the previous three years" and "prohibit[s] companies that do business with the government from requiring their workers to agree to arbitration processes for workplace harassment or civil rights complaints, guaranteeing that workers who are sexually harassed or discriminated against can get their day in court," as ThinkProgress explained at the time. 

"We know the executive order was necessary," the ACLU wrote last week, "because, according to a 2013 U.S. Senate report, federal contractors employ about 22 percent of the American workforce (approximately 26 million workers) and, shockingly, 30 percent of the worst violators of workplace safety and wage laws continued to receive federal contracts."

As such, undoing the order, wrote Celine McNicholas of Economic Policy Institute, means "there will be no effective system in place to ensure that taxpayer dollars support contractors with good health and safety records. Who benefits from this? Contractors that kill and injure workers."

Further detailing its need is Warren's new report (pdf), based on data from the Department of Labor, which states that "of the federal government's 100 largest contractors, which, combined, received nearly $240 billion in taxpayer payments in 2015, 66 have been caught breaking federal labor law." It notes that the top federal contractor, Lockheed Martin, "has nearly 3,000 violations and has agreed to pay its workers almost $3.5 million in back wages."

The report also notes:

Federal contractors are repeat—and significant—violators of federal labor laws. Six hundred ninety-two companies have been caught violating wage-related contractor labor laws multiple times (with some cases affecting several thousand workers). Many of these repeat offenders continued to receive millions of dollars in contracts funded by taxpayer dollars. Abuses by contractors also included violations of safety and health standards that were willful and repeated. They caused a wide range of physical harm to workers: dozens of workers have died, and even more have been exposed to chemicals likely to cause lifelong health problems, because the contractors they worked for took shortcuts on health and safety standards.

The House last month voted to undo the rule. If it gets Senate approval—it needs just 51 votes using the Congressional Review Act—it heads to President Donald Trump, who indicated last month that he would support it.

Warren said in a statement Monday: "All Americans deserve a safe workplace and fair pay for a day's work. But too often, federal contractors break labor laws while continuing to suck down millions in taxpayer dollars. Instead of making it easier for companies to cheat their employees or threaten workers' health and safety, President Trump and Republicans in Congress should join Democrats in standing up for the hardworking Americans who do important jobs for our country."

Last week, 150 civil and worker rights organizations also sent a letter to Congress calling for the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces order to be kept in place, saying it "provide[s] strong protections against the federal government contracting with employers that routinely violate workplace health and safety protections, engage in age, disability, race, and sex discrimination, withhold wages, or commit other labor violations. These protections should not be repealed."

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