Federal Contractors: Money First, Workers Last

Citizen Wealth Financial Justice

moneyLittle Rock       It seems straightforward.   If you are going to ask for and, if fortunate, receive government money, then you are going to have to follow the law.  Some Senators though had their staff undertake a study of federal contractors only to find that many of these big business were delighted to get the dollars, but somehow believed that they only had to follow whatever laws they felt like, especially when it came to their workers’ wages and health and safety:

“The report found that 32 federal contractors were among the leading companies in the amount of back pay assessed for wage violations between 2007 and 2012.  ‘Overall, the 49 federal contractors responsible for large violations of federal labor laws were cited for 1776 separate violations of these laws and paid $196 million in penalties and assessments.  In fiscal year 2012, these same companies were awarded $81 billion in taxpayer dollars.”

You know, that’s just plain wrong, but equally appalling is the obvious conclusion that when the federal government is giving out these contracts it really doesn’t care whether or not the laws are being followed, especially when it comes to the tens of thousands of workers involved.  I would almost bet money that this is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to real violations, especially on wage issues, since the work of really monitoring whether or not something like the Service Contract Act was being followed to the nickel on assuring that workers were receiving proper amounts under area wage determinations would have been exhausting and difficult.  

The whole point of prevailing wage statutes like SCA or Davis-Bacon or the McCarran shipbuilding act is to make sure that the federal government sets the standard as a fair and safe employer.  An Obama administration plan to give preference to bidders that provided what they determined to be “good wages and benefits” was shelved, according to Times’ labor reporter, Steven Greenhouse, so perhaps this is another pipe dream, but it shouldn’t be, should it?  Frankly, I think they should establish themselves and their contractors as “model” employers and provide the benchmarks in these areas, but even if not that, the least we should expect is fairness and attention to the letter, if not the spirit, of laws that are meant to protect worker-citizens.  

Bad actors like Tyson Food, Imperial Sugar, and British Petroleum are legendary in these reports, yet it seems the feds don’t even keep a database up to date on compliance and infractions.  Maybe we need to ask the NSA with its vast computing and database capacity to take this on to keep them out of mischief and provide real worker protections as part of the package on the $307 billion in federal contracts awarded.

In the meantime it’s all about the money for these folks while the workers take the risks and we all get the hindmost.