Labor Dept. Wants Religious Freedom Focus in Bias Probes

Source: Ben Penn, Bloomberg Law, August 10, 2018 (Subscription Required)
The Trump administration is expanding the circumstances in which federal contractors can use religious beliefs as a defense against job discrimination charges, a move likely targeting the Obama Labor Department’s ban on bias against gay and transgender workers.  The DOL’s Office of Federal Contractor Compliance Programs issued a new enforcement directive Aug. 10 calling for investigators to factor in recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings and White House executive orders that protect religious freedom. Lawmakers, administrative agencies, and courts have grappled with drawing a line between religious liberty and unlawful discrimination. …


“We just get by check to check”: Workers cheated as federal contractors prosper
Source: Talia Buford and Maryam Jameel, Salon, April 6, 2017
… But each year, thousands of contractors enriched by tax dollars skirt federal labor laws and shortchange workers. In fact, U.S. Department of Labor data show that upwards of 70 percent of all cases lodged against federal contractors and investigated by the department since 2012 yielded substantive violations. … The Center for Public Integrity examined a subset of 1,154 egregious violators — those with the biggest fines, highest number of violations or most employees impacted — included in the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division enforcement database and cross-referenced them with more than 300,000 contract records from the Treasury Department. The Center found that between January 2015 and July 2016:

  • Federal agencies modified or granted contracts worth a total of $18 billion to 68 contractors with proven wage violations. Among them: health-care provider Sterling Medical Associates, Cornell University and Corrections Corporation of America
  • Of all agencies, the U.S. Department of Defense employed the most wage violators – 49, which collectively owed $4.7 million in back pay to almost 6,200 workers. The department paid those 49 contractors a combined $15 billion
  • Violations by the 68 contractors affected some 11,000 workers around the country — about the same number of people who moved to D.C. in 2016.

…The Labor Department tried to address the problem in 2016 with a rule that would have required federal contractors to disclose wage and safety violations and come into compliance with the law if they wanted to keep doing business with the government. Invoking a statute rarely used prior to the Trump administration, however, Congress voted to undo the regulation — already on hold because of a legal challenge — and Trump sealed its fate with his signature. …

Trump’s Courageous, Valiant Decision to Gut Government Worker Safety
Source: Michelle Chen, The Nation, April 5, 2017
As he gets ready to put Americans to work on big-league federal projects, President Trump seeks to cut “burdensome red tape” for federal contractors. But that might mean cutting a few fingers and toes, too. That’s because Trump has repealed an Obama administration executive order ensuring fair pay and safety standards for workers contracted for government projects. So the workers Trump wants to supposedly rebuild bridges and highways will be working under a regulatory regime that’s now more likely to ease up on abusive employers in “public-private partnerships.” …

Trump nixes Obama order preventing federal workers from being fired because they’re LGBT
Source: Nico Lang, Salon, March 30, 2017

President Trump has repealed an executive order that advocates believe will provide loophole for employers to discriminate against LGBT people.  As part of his stated goal to strike down two pieces of federal regulation for every new policy introduced by the White House, the POTUS nixed Executive Order 13673 on Monday, along with two other Obama EOs. Known as the “Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Order,” that order required contractors who work with the federal government to demonstrate that they have complied with laws barring discrimination on gender identity and sexual orientation for at least three years. That policy was introduced in July 2014 along with an EO prohibiting bias against LGBT workers in all federal contracting. Although Donald Trump has claimed he would uphold the Obama order explicitly condemning anti-LGBT bias, civil rights groups argue that policy is more difficult to mandate without federal enforcement. …

Trump Repeals Regulation Protecting Workers From Wage Theft
Source: Dave Jamieson, Huffington Post, March 27, 2017

Companies that commit wage theft and put their workers in harm’s way just received a favor from the Trump administration. President Donald Trump signed a bill Monday repealing a regulation that had encouraged federal contractors to follow labor laws. Under the Obama-era rule, companies with an egregious record of violating wage and safety laws would lose their government contracts if they didn’t come into compliance. … By approving the legislation sent to him by the Senate, Trump has ensured not only that the regulation will die, but also that no similar regulation can be put forth by the Labor Department again. Trump signed the legislation at a White House ceremony in front of the press. … Labor groups and advocates for low-wage workers pressured the Obama administration to issue the contracting rule. Numerous reports have shown that federal contractors continue to receive federal money even after cheating employees out of pay or endangering them on the job. …

Controversy over Obama Contractor Safe Workplaces Rule Won’t End With Its Repeal
Source: Charles S. Clark, Government Executive, March 13, 2017

President Trump is likely to sign a repeal of the Obama administration’s Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces rule any day, but controversy over contractor disclosure requirements could linger. Already one tiny agency appears willing to row against the tide of repeal. The independent Chemical Safety Board on March 1 voted 4-0 to declare “unacceptable” the Federal Acquisition Regulatory Council’s response to a request for stronger reviews of potential contractors’ workplace safety programs. … There is other unfinished business with the Obama rule. Some of the provisions not blocked in court took effect in January, including the paycheck transparency sections, as noted by Eric Leonard, a partner at the Wiley Rein law firm specializing in government contracting. …

Congress Passes Rollback of Contractor Accountability Measure
Source: Neil Gordon, Project On Government Oversight, March 9, 2017

On Monday, a resolution overturning rules implementing the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces executive order cleared the Senate and was sent to the White House. The measure blocks Labor Department regulations requiring contractors to disclose to the government their labor law violations, provide employees information needed to verify the accuracy of paychecks, and allow employees to file discrimination and sexual assault and harassment claims in court. The measure also negates the EO’s requirement that agencies evaluate the labor law violation information—which would have been collected in the Federal Awardee Performance and Integrity Information System (FAPIIS) database—as part of the contract award process.

… We hope the elimination of the labor law violation disclosure rule will not have a negative effect on federal contractor oversight. Some companies have been voluntarily reporting these violations in the FAPIIS database, but it’s barely a trickle of information. A golden opportunity to amass a large quantity of contractor responsibility data in one centralized location has been lost. Fortunately, the impact of this rollback may be mitigated because contracting officials have a growing array of online data resources at their disposal. In addition to FAPIIS, there are a variety of free online corporate accountability tools, such as POGO’s Federal Contractor Misconduct Database and Good Jobs First’s Violation Tracker—which contains some of the violation data contractors would have been required to disclose—and corporate rap sheets.

Senate Votes to Overturn Obama-Era Workplace Rule
Source: Eric Morath and Natalie Andrews, Wall Street Journal, March 6, 2017

The Senate empowered President Donald Trump to overturn an as yet-implemented Obama-era regulation that sought to require firms that bid on government contracts to disclose past labor-law violations.  The House already passed such a measure, which gives the president the ability to scrap regulations put into place in the final months of the prior administration’s term.  Senators voted, 49-48, Monday evening to apply the Congressional Review Act to rules implementing the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces executive order. … The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, a labor union, said the regulation would prevent lawbreaking companies from winning contracts funded by taxpayer dollars. …

Republicans Just Made It Easier For Companies To Exploit Workers
Source: Dave Jamieson, Huffington Post, March 6, 2017

Employers who cheat their workers or endanger their lives now have one less thing to worry about, courtesy of the GOP Congress. … Backers of the rule, which included Democrats and worker groups, said it would have helped assure that the nation’s most unscrupulous employers aren’t rewarded with taxpayer dollars. Republicans and business groups claimed it would have unfairly punished companies without giving them due process. … But even a record of violations wouldn’t have precluded a company from receiving contracts. … Studies have shown that many federal contractors routinely break workplace laws, and many continue to receive contracts regardless of violations.  The Labor Department estimated that the rule would have applied to roughly 14,000 contractors each year. …

Senate Republicans eye repeal of Obama-era ‘blacklisting rule’
Source: Tim Devaney, The  Hill, March 2, 2017

The Senate is moving forward with a plan to strike down a controversial Obama-era labor regulation.  The GOP-controlled Senate will vote Monday on whether to repeal the Labor Department’s so-called “blacklisting rule” through the Congressional Review Act, which gives Republicans the power to overturn certain Obama-era regulations without any Democratic support.  The blacklisting rule requires federal contractors to disclose labor violation committed or alleged in the last three years.   Proponents say it will help the federal government avoid doing business with companies that treat their employees poorly. But critics argue could subject these companies to unfair pressure from unions.

Republicans Are About To Erase One Of Obama’s Major Workplace Protections
Source: Dave Jamieson, Huffington Post, February 3, 2017

On Thursday, House Republicans moved to gut one of Obama’s signature labor reforms, a rule that would forbid contractors with a history of workplace violations from receiving new contracts. Lawmakers passed what’s known as a resolution of disapproval against the rule, with a party-line vote tally of 236 to 187.  The GOP-controlled Senate is expected to pass the measure as well, since Democrats can’t filibuster a resolution of disapproval. If that happens, the Labor Department will be forbidden from moving forward with Obama’s executive order, which is known as the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces rule. … The rule is currently tied up in court after business groups sued to stop it. The idea behind Obama’s executive order was to give contracting preference to high-road employers who treat their workers decently. Studies have shown that a surprising number of contractors run afoul of workplace regulations while receiving federal money, and many continue to get new contracts even if they’ve cheated workers or exposed them to hazards. … The Labor Department estimates that the rule would apply to roughly 14,000 contractors each year. …

House and Senate Prepare to Undo Obama Contractor Rule
Source: Charles S. Clark, Government Executive, January 31, 2017

Leaders in both the House and Senate on Monday made good on past pledges and introduced a joint resolution to block former President Obama’s “Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces” rule that the Republicans call a “blacklisting” of legitimate federal contractors.  Obama’s 2014 executive order, intended to force contractors to disclose past accusations of violations of 14 labor laws, was blocked by a court in October, two months after his Labor Department finalized its implementation rules. Many in the contracting community oppose the rule.  The joint resolution of disapproval as drafted would rely on the rarely used 1996 Congressional Review Act. With a Republican in the White House, such resolutions are more likely to become law. …

Trump Freezes Overtime, Pay Data Regulations
Source: Chris Opfer, Bloomberg BNA, January 24, 2017

White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus Jan. 20 instructed federal agencies to freeze all pending regulations, a move that seems to include a number of labor and employment initiatives that were in the works under the Obama administration. Priebus told the agencies to hold off on sending new regulations to the Office of Management and Budget and to postpone for at least 60 days all regulations that have been published but haven’t yet taken effect. He also encouraged agencies to “consider potentially proposing further notice-and-comment rulemaking” for any regulations that have been held up over legal questions. The move appears to put the Labor Department’s overtime rule on ice, along with regulations to expand federal contractor disclosure requirements and require employers to provide information about union-busting “persuader” activities. It may also pause new pay data disclosure requirements set to be put in place by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The overtime, contractor disclosure and persuader rules were already on hold, pending the outcome of court battles. The EEOC pay data requirement was set to go into effect in March 2018. … Management-side attorneys and lobbyists said additional delays may be coming as the Trump administration decides which mix of executive orders, new regulations and legislation to use to try to undo his predecessor’s labor agenda. …

Obama’s orders protecting federal contract workers face reversal by Trump
Source: Joe Davidson, Washington Post, January 18, 2017

In a 100-day action plan in his “Contract with the American Voter,” Trump promised to “cancel every unconstitutional executive action, memorandum and order issued by President Obama.”  The 100-day clock starts Friday with Trump’s inauguration. We don’t know what’s on the chopping block, but trade associations are willing to show him what to ax.  An August 2015 letter from four government contracting associations to White House Chief of Staff Denis R. McDonough and Senior Adviser Valerie B. Jarrett said Obama had issued 12 government contracting executive orders resulting in 16 new regulations. It was sent by the Aerospace Industries Association, National Defense Industrial Association, Professional Services Council (PSC) and Information Technology Industry Council.  “[T]he net effect has been to significantly increase the costs of doing business with the government …” the letter said. “Therefore, on behalf of the thousands of companies our organizations represent and their hundreds of thousands of employees, we respectfully request that no further presidential directives primarily focused on government contractors be issued for the foreseeable future.” …

The list of orders has grown slightly since the organizations sent their letter, “which was not formally responded to,” according to Alan L. Chvotkin, PSC’s executive vice president. PSC has asked the Trump transition team to evaluate certain executive orders “for near term action.” Although the associations claimed to speak on behalf of the companies’ employees, those workers benefit from many of the regulations the companies oppose. Other business organizations challenged Obama’s “Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces” directive that allowed agencies to bar contracts to firms with workplace violations. A federal-district court judge in Beaumont, Tex., agreed with the corporate groups and largely blocked implementation of the order the day before it would have taken effect in October. This is an easy one for Trump to nix. He doesn’t have to do anything but let the judge’s order stand. … But if things like paid sick leave, a minimum wage and protection from workplace violators are dumped, it is the contractor employees who would pay the price.

[Ed. Note: For a detailed list of some of the actions affecting contractors and their employees, see full article.]