Viewpoints

Why local governments should embrace fair pay and safe workplace contractor policies

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By Mina Mina

New government regulations are almost always met with various forms of resistance. The Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Executive Order from President Obama is no exception, as several lawsuits have been filed and Texas Judge Marcia A. Crone issued a nationwide preliminary injunction on October 25, 2016.

Concerns about federally mandated changes are understandable. Judge Crone outlined some of these concerns in her decision, stating in part that disqualifications to bid for federal government projects are based on “allegations of fault asserted by agency employees and do not constitute final agency findings of any violation at all.” The injunction temporarily blocks the implementation of most of the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces rule.

While this legal conflict is being sorted out, other government entities have an opportunity to consider the intent of the Executive Order and the possible positive outcomes that can come from it.

The Department of Labor (DOL) outlines the intent of the Executive Order by stating, “Taxpayer dollars should not reward companies that break the law and contractors who meet their legal responsibilities should not have to compete with those who do not.” It’s hard to argue with that. In fact, shouldn’t all government - federal, state, city, and county - strive for the same ideal? Supporting contractors that protect their workers’ safety and rights to fair pay is as simple as supporting businesses that follow the law.

Setting aside the legal discussions, let’s explore some of the reasons government from local to federal should embrace these changes. Here are three reasons why government of all sizes should adopt the rules and guidelines outlined in the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Executive Order:

 

Stop repeat offenders from winning repeat business

A recent Senate report found that 49 federal contractors were fined $196 million in penalties for safety and wage violations over six years. These very same contractors received $81 billion in federal contracts in 2012 alone. It’s time to stop enabling, and in some cases rewarding, businesses that take advantage of workers and put their safety at risk.

 

Reward contractors that value safety and follow the law

Once contractors meet a basic standard, many processes dictate that the lowest bid be awarded the business. This can create an advantage to those businesses that cut costs at the expense of worker safety and unfair wage practices. By raising these standards, our communities can reward contractors that value safety and abide by the law.

 

Make the standards reasonable for most contractors

The Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Executive Order targets only the most ‘egregious’ safety violations, including OSHA violations ranked as “serious” or “willful”, for example. Officials estimate that only about 10 percent of all federal contractors will have serious enough violations to be disqualified from the process of submitting a federal bid, meaning approximately 90 percent will not have problems.

While the Executive Order is facing some initial resistance, Avetta has seen policies that encourage safety and require contractors to abide by the law work effectively in the private sector. Stricter policies naturally weed out those contractors that repeatedly violate the law and put workers at risk by lowering safety standards. These policies have the potential to improve the overall quality of the contractor pool by up-leveling safety standards and reducing the pressure to cut corners to lower costs. Holding contractors to higher standards makes sense at every level of government, as the workers that will be protected are often our own neighbors.

 

Mina Mina is the senior director of client success at cloud platform company Avetta. He has over 15 years of dedicated health & safety professional experience.

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