Policy

Defense Bill Could Undermine Labor Protections

Workers at the Pentagon say their employer has retaliated against them for organizing

Federal contract workers who have gone on strike to call for higher wages are worried about a provision in the defense policy bill. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The Senate's defense policy bill would undermine a presidential executive order that requires federal contractors to disclose any labor law violations, a provision that prompted federal contract workers to make the rounds in Senate offices Wednesday.  

The workers are focusing on Senate Armed Services Committee members, asking the lawmakers to remove a provision that labor organizers say would exempt defense contractors from reporting violations. The provision was attached to the Senate bill at the request of several GOP senators who argue that the order involves "blacklisting" certain contractors.  

[ Senate Contractors to Join Federal Workers Strike at Capitol ]  

In 2014, Obama signed the "Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces" order, which would require those seeking federal contracts valued at more than $500,000 to disclose whether they violated labor laws in the last three years. A provision in the National Defense Authorization Act would exempt defense contractors from the order, unless those contractors have been "suspended or debarred" due to labor law violations.  

Labor organizers and workers say the provision damages protections for federal workers, particularly those at the Pentagon who have faced retaliation for organizing to push for higher wages and more benefits. Over the past three years, Pentagon workers have joined other federal workers at 17 strikes, including at the U.S. Capitol , that were organized by the labor coalition Good Jobs Nation.  

[ Defense Bill Passes After Democrats Last-Ditch Attempts to Change It ]  

On May 23, the same day that the House passed the NDAA with a similar provision, the National Labor Relations Board released a notice of a complaint against the Pentagon's food service vendor, Seven Hills Inc., alleging retaliation against workers who had gone on strike.  

"It’s ironic that the GOP claims Defense contractors follow the law even though a U.S. government investigation revealed that Pentagon contract workers are being threatened, intimidated and even fired for exercising our legal rights,” Mayra Tito, a Pentagon food worker who was fired for organizing a union, said in a May 23 news release.   

[ Senate Food Workers Allege 'Raise Theft' ]  

And on Wednesday, Good Jobs Nation filed another complaint against Seven Hills, alleging worker wage theft . According to a copy of the complaint, the group is alleging that Seven Hills underpaid its fast food workers and cleaning staff at the Pentagon and failed to provide additional benefits.  

An organizer at Good Jobs Nation said that under the executive order, Seven Hills would have to disclose the NLRB complaint and the wage theft allegations if those are found to be true, when applying for a federal contract. But, if the NDAA provision becomes law, the contractor would not be obligated to report those violations.  

However, Republican senators argued that the executive order creates undue burdens on contractors and would amount to a blacklist for potential contractors.  

[ House GOP Works on Budget Hail Mary ]  

The Senate committee attached the provision at the request of GOP Sens. James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma (a senior Armed Services member), Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, David Vitter of Louisiana, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Roger Wicker of Mississippi, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, and Michael B. Enzi of Wyoming.   

"The inclusion of this language will prevent blacklisting to any company unless they have had specific violations proven that have led to its suspension or debarment by the Department," Inhofe said in a May 13 statement. "I will be working with my colleagues to ensure this language makes it across the finish line.”      

Meanwhile, workers from the Pentagon, as well as the Senate and the Smithsonian museums will be on Capitol Hill Wednesday, hoping to find a Democratic ally to attempt to strip the provision. 

Contact Bowman at  bridgetbowman@rollcall.com  and follow her on Twitter  @bridgetbhc .

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