Legislators seek more protections for contractor employees

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By Simon Brody

Friday, July 25th, 2014

In a provision currently proposed for attachment to the new federal appropriations bill by members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus contractors could face debarment for even the mildest violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act. The Caucus has also urged the president to consider further executive actions to bolster protections for workers employed by contractors.

Congressman Keith Ellison (D-MN) advanced the provision under which a contractor that has been found liable for even a minor FLSA violation -- of as little as $5,000 -- would be subject to debarment on that basis alone.

The provision was recently adopted as part of 2015 Appropriations bills for Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Defense, Energy and Water Development, Financial Services and General Government, State and Foreign Operations, and Interior and Environment.

Debarment prevents contractor from receiving business from the federal government for a period of years, and is known among the stiffest penalty a contractor can face, particularly those whose core businesses involve servicing the federal government.

In a recent letter to the president, Ellison and Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) urge him to consider stronger a new executive order which would guarantee wage protections for workers employed by federal contractors.

Under the proposed executive order -- Good Jobs Executive Order -- additional measures would include ensuring no contractors are exempt from existing laws. It would also give preference to employers which provide a living wage and full benefits, and to those that allow collective bargaining and worker strikes.

While minimum wage for federal contractors was a good start, they say, more is needed to deal with "violations of workers' rights like wage theft, which includes off-the-clock work and non-payment of overtime, remain unaddressed," the letter argues

Opponents of the efforts -- particularly the debarment provision in the appropriations bill -- say that FLSA principles are already incorporated into the Service Contract Act and the Davis-Bacon Act. Compliance with federal and state wage-and-hour laws is already a necessity for successful continued operations for all businesses -- including those of federal contractors.

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