Urge Leaders to Protect Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces in Defense Bill

WASHINGTON, D.C.  – Today, Senator Markey joined a group of 35 Senators in sending a letter urging the House and Senate Chairmen and Ranking Members of the Armed Services Committees to ensure that the final language of the conferenced defense bill, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2017, protects the Executive Order on Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces. President Obama signed the Executive Order on Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces in 2014 in order to ensure that federal contractors disclose their compliance record with labor laws designed to promote safe, healthy, fair, and effective workplaces. Harmful provisions included in both the House and Senate versions of the NDAA would restrict the Executive Order from fully applying to defense contractors. The lawmakers today urged the Armed Services Chairmen and Ranking Members to remove these harmful provisions from the bill during conference and protect hardworking Americans.

 “We urge you to join us in ensuring the conference report removes limitations on the Fair Pay EO,” the Senators wrote. “Thousands are deprived of overtime wages, denied basic workplace protections, forced to endure illegal discrimination, and made to tolerate unwarranted health and safety risks. Federal government contracts should be expected to represent the gold standard in the American workplace, and removing these damaging and destructive restrictions to the executive order will protect millions of hardworking Americans.”

The following Senators joined the letter: Senator Murray (D-WA), Senator Cantwell (D-WA), Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Al Franken (D-MN), Bernie Sanders (D-VT), , Cory Booker (D-NJ), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Tom Carper (D-DE), Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Bob Casey (D-PA), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Christopher Coons (D-DE), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Bill Nelson (D- FL), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Jon Tester (D-MT), Tom Udall (D-NM), Robert Menendez (D-NM), and Gary Peters (D-MI).

In 2014, President Barack Obama signed the Executive Order on Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces to require prospective federal contractors to disclose violations of 14 laws, including the Fair Labor Standards Act, Occupational Safety and Health Act, Vietnam Era Veterans Readjustment Assistance Act, Americans with Disabilities Act, and more. A copy of the executive order listing these laws is available here. This Executive Order gives agencies more guidance on how to consider violations of these laws when awarding federal contracts. The new process is structured to encourage companies to settle existing disputes, like having employers pay employees back wages. It also helps ensure workers are given the necessary information each pay period to verify the accuracy of their paycheck. And the order ensures that workers who may have been sexually assaulted or had their civil rights violated get their day in court by putting an end to mandatory arbitration agreements at corporations with large federal contracts. Section 829H of the NDAA, however, guts the Executive Order, limiting it only to a handful of defense contractors that have been suspended or debarred.

Full text of the letter is available here and below:

Dear Chairman McCain and Ranking Member Reed:

We write to express our continued concern regarding harmful language in both House and Senate versions of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 (NDAA) that limits the applicability of the Executive Order on Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces (Fair Pay EO). As conference negotiations begin, we urge you to remove the damaging and destructive restrictions placed on this critical initiative that protects millions of hardworking Americans.

Following a 2013 staff report by the Senate HELP Committee that showed 49 of the 100 companies with the most significant wage and safety violations were also federal contractors, President Obama issued the 2014 Fair Pay EO to require companies seeking to do business with the federal government to disclose whether they have violated any of 14 long-standing labor laws, including the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, the Vietnam Era Veterans Readjustment Assistance Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, among others. There is no requirement to disclose a mere allegation or claim of a violation by a worker of one of these laws; rather, the Fair Pay EO requires disclosure of a determination by an enforcement agency, court, or administrative body of an actual violation. There is no effort to prevent the Department of Defense (DoD) from hiring contractors who have violated labor laws; rather, in fact the purpose of the Fair Pay EO is precisely to bring companies into compliance without resorting to the only remedy currently available: barring companies from access to federal contracts.  Thus the EO will strengthen the pool of contractors eligible for contracts, ensuring companies entrusted with billions of taxpayers’ dollars provide fair, safe, and equitable workplaces.

Unfortunately, both the House and Senate versions of the NDAA fail to recognize the importance of the Fair Pay EO and attempt to undermine it by preventing it from applying to DoD. The Senate-passed NDAA guts the Fair Pay EO by limiting it to the handful of defense contractors who are debarred or suspended as a result of previous violations of the labor laws protected in the Fair Pay EO. Similar harmful language is found in the House-passed NDAA. These provisions thwart transparency and compliance with the law, thus creating an unlevel playing field in which unscrupulous defense contractors that skirt the law can beat out honest, law-abiding American companies that respect the rule of law.

If these dangerous provisions remain in the conferenced bill, we will be doing American workers a damaging injustice. Each year, thousands are deprived of overtime wages, denied basic workplace protections, forced to endure illegal discrimination, and made to tolerate unwarranted health and safety risks. Those companies supported by and entrusted with federal government contracts should be expected to represent the gold standard in the American workplace. As such, we urge you to join us in our effort to protect American workers and prevent waste, fraud, and abuse in critical defense contracts: ensure the conference report removes limitations on the Fair Pay EO. We thank you for your consideration and look forward to working with you on this matter.