The guidance was published in the Aug. 25 Federal Register. It comes about two years after President Barack Obama signed the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Executive Order in July 2014. President Obama directed DOL and the FAR Council to issue regulations and guidance based on the Executive Order, which aims to ensure federal contractors adhere to basic workplace protections.
The final regulations, scheduled to go into effect in phases beginning on Oct. 25, require employers bidding for a federal contract worth at least $500,000 to disclose any of 14 established violations of workplace protections cited during the previous three years. Violations that must be disclosed include those related to safety and health, family and medical leave, civil rights protections, collective bargaining, and wages.
“Federal contracts should deliver value for taxpayers in a way that is consistent with our nation’s values,” Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez said in a press release. “Contractors that illegally cut corners at the expense of their workers should not benefit from taxpayer-funded federal contracts. At the same time, employers who meet their legal responsibilities should not have to compete with those who do not. The regulations and guidance we are announcing today seek to ensure a level playing field for contractors and workers alike.”
Republicans in Congress blasted the new rule as another example of unnecessary bureaucracy that will waste time and money for small businesses. A joint statement from House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman Rep. John Kline (R-MN); Workforce Protections Subcommittee Chairman Tim Walberg (R-MI); and Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions Subcommittee Chairman Phil Roe (R-TN) derided what they called a “blacklisting regulation.”
“Bad actors who deny workers basic protections shouldn’t receive government contracts, and for decades, there’s been a system in place designed to hold those bad actors accountable,” the lawmakers said in a press release. “Unfortunately, this administration would rather spend time and resources creating new layers of bureaucracy instead of using its existing authority to enforce current protections.
“This redundant, unnecessary and unworkable regulatory scheme isn’t about protecting the rights of workers. It’s about growing government and promoting a culture of union favoritism.”
Democrats on the House Education and the Workforce Committee fired back. Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) and Elijah Cummins (D-MD) said the rule would help to make sure workers are treated fairly and return home safely. They said the final rule makes distinctions for serious, willful, repeated or pervasive violations, and does not apply to minor or technical violations.
“Doing business with the federal government is a privilege, not a right,” Scott and Cummings said in a press release. “Likewise, law-abiding, responsible contractors should not be forced to compete with contractors who save money in a race to the bottom by violating federal civil rights, labor and workplace safety laws.”
The National Council for Occupational Safety and Health praised the regulations as a way to shine a spotlight on contractors who jeopardize worker safety.
“As a homeowner, you wouldn’t want to hire a painting company that uses rickety ladders and puts workers at risk on your property,” National COSH Acting Executive Director Jessica Martinez said in a press release. “Taxpayers also want fair value for money spent on government contracts, instead of hiring scofflaws who cut corners and put workers at risk.”
However, another group claims current rules are sufficient to keep workers safe.
“The executive order and its implementing regulations and guidance exceed the administration’s legal authority,” Chamber of Commerce Senior Vice President of Labor, Immigration, and Employee Benefits Randy Johnson said in a press release. “Additionally, they remain unnecessary because strong labor law and contractor integrity protections are already in place.
“The only result of this initiative will be an increase in the cost and burdens of federal contracting, meaning taxpayers will get less value for their federal dollar.”