Contractor Fair Pay and Workplace Safety Rules in Peril

Photo: NIOSH / Flickr

On Thursday, the Senate passed a motion to proceed on a resolution to block Labor Department regulations requiring companies bidding on federal contracts to disclose violations of federal and state labor laws from the past three years.

The resolution of disapproval, which the House passed last month and the Senate will debate next week, was drafted pursuant to the Congressional Review Act (CRA). Under the law, Congress can overturn rules issued by the federal agencies back to May 2016. If such resolutions are enacted, the CRA provides that any new rule “substantially the same” as the disapproved rule may not be issued unless it is specifically authorized by a subsequent law. Additionally, it prohibits judicial review of any “determination, finding, action, or omission under [the CRA].”

The Labor Department regulations implemented President Obama’s 2014 Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces executive order. Industry groups fought the order tooth and nail. Last October, a Texas federal judge temporarily blocked most of the new regulations, which also prohibited contractors from forcing employees to submit discrimination and sexual assault and harassment cases to arbitration, and required contractors to provide employees with the information they need each pay period to verify the accuracy of their paychecks.

If there is a silver lining, it is that government officials evaluating prospective contractors have a growing array of publicly available data resources at their disposal. Companies are disclosing health and safety violations in the Federal Awardee Performance and Integrity Information System (FAPIIS), which officials are required to check before awarding contracts and grants. Good government groups provide a variety of useful corporate accountability tools, such as POGO’s Federal Contractor Misconduct Database and Good Jobs First’s Violation Tracker.

Still, it would have been nice to have that wealth of labor violation data posted in one centralized location, to say nothing of the myriad ways the new regulations would have improved conditions for millions of American workers.