President Obama signed an executive order last week aimed at promoting fair pay and safe workplaces for workers employed by federal contractors.

The Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Executive Order is intended to hold corporations accountable by requiring prospective federal contractors to disclose labor law violations from the previous three years and to collect that information from subcontractors. It will also crack down on repeat violators, protect responsible contractors, offer guidance to companies on how to improve, and streamline implementation and contractor reporting, which will promote the efficiency of federal contracts. The order will also give employees more power by giving them information about their paychecks and giving them “a day in court:” it will prevent companies from requiring them to enter into a pre-dispute arbitration agreement for problems that arise from violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act or torts related to sexual assault or harassment.

More than one in five American workers is employed by a firm that contracts with the federal government, and nearly one in three companies with the worst safety and wage violations are federal contractors. According to a recent US Senate Committee report, wage theft by federal contractors cost American workers $82 million between FY 2007 and FY 2012, and 42 American workers died during this period as a result of workplace violations by companies holding federal contracts in 2012.

“Our tax dollars shouldn’t go to companies that violate workplace laws. They shouldn’t go to companies that violate worker rights. If a company is going to receive taxpayer money, it should have safe workplaces. It should pay its workers the wages they’ve earned. It should provide the medical leave workers are entitled to.  It should not discriminate against workers,” President Obama said when he signed the Order. “The vast majority of the companies that contract with our government, they play by the rules.  They live up to the right workplace standards.  But some don’t.”

The Executive Order, part of President Obama’s “Year of Action,” will apply to new federal contractors valued at over $500,000 and will be implemented in stages throughout 2016. President Obama previously signed executive orders banning LGBT discrimination in the workplace for federal contracts and promoting pay equity for women in the workplace. 

Media Resources: The White House 7/31/14; Center for American Progress Action Fund 7/29/14; Senator Tom Harkin 12/11/13; Feminist Newswire 4/7/14, 7/22/14; Feminist Majority 1/29/14

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