July 30 (Bloomberg) — President Barack Obama is scheduled to announce steps tomorrow designed to improve working conditions for employees of federal contractors, some of whom have gone on strike over what they see as unfair labor practices at companies that do business with the U.S.
Obama will sign an executive order at the White House that requires federal contractors to disclose labor law violations and provide guidance to agencies on how to weigh the black marks when awarding contracts, according to a person at the White House who asked not to be identified before an announcement is made.
The changes also will encourage companies to settle complaints of “wage theft,” an issue that’s among the top priorities for federal workers who say employers don’t always pay for overtime.
Obama in January issued an executive order raising the minimum wage paid by federal contractors to $10.10 an hour. Workers, while welcoming the raise, have said it wasn’t enough, and they’ve pushed for other steps, like action to prevent unpaid off-the-clock work and to enforce workplace safety rules.
Democrats in Congress have also pushed for more protections. Representatives Keith Ellison of Minnesota and Raul Grijalva of Arizona, the co-chairmen of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, urged Obama to issue a “Good Jobs Executive Order” in a July 24 letter. It quotes a report from Demos, a New York-based public policy group that advocates for workforce changes, finding many federal contracting jobs provide poverty- level wages.
“One of the most effective ways to spur economic growth and build the middle class is to reform federal contracting policy,” the letter states.
Senator Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat and chairman of the Senate labor committee, released a report in December that found companies with significant violations of labor laws had won more than $80 billion in federal contracts in 2012.
Citing a study by the Center for American Progress and the University of California at Berkeley released in 2009, the report said companies that do business with the federal government employ about 22 percent of the nation’s workforce.
“The president’s action will be an important step forward to give the government more tools to effectively confront and deter workplace wage and safety violations,” Harkin said in a statement.
Federal contracting officers already must assess the records of companies applying for contracts. The executive order is designed to make it easier to find past violations, the White House official said.
The order also seeks to ensure that workers are given enough information to verify the accuracy of their paychecks and additional protections against sexual assault or discrimination, according to the person.
“Safe workplaces and fair pay should not be luxuries for America’s workforce,” Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress, a Washington policy group aligned with Democrats, said in a statement. “Yet today, far too many companies with long track records of violating workplace laws are continuing to receive federal contracts with no strings attached.”