Trump signed yet another executive order last week, this one undermining the rights of workers. The March 27, 2017, order revoked three previous orders issued by President Obama related to federal contractors, including a 2014 order called the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Act, which sought to strengthen enforcement of and adherence to the broad range of labor and non-discrimination laws by federal contractors.
Obama’s 2014 Executive Order sought to reinforce the effect of laws ensuring safe working conditions, fair pay, protections against sexual harassment, and other laws that prohibit discrimination, including on the basis of race, sex, disability, sexual orientation and gender identity. The Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces order required federal contractors to disclose violations of applicable laws within the preceding three-year period prior to the contract bid. The point was to avoid situations where the government was contracting for services to companies known to be willfully and repeatedly in violation of labor and non-discrimination laws, while at the same time providing incentive and a pathway to contracts for those companies taking steps to remedy past violations.
Trump’s executive order is sweeping because of its potentially broad impact on workers and their rights. First and foremost, it impacts the tens of millions of workers whose companies have contracts with the federal government (notably, the Department of Defense is one of the largest federal contractors). Initial reporting on this issue addressed the implications of the order for LGBTQ employees, but its sweep is far and wide – affecting the health, safety, and fair pay of workers, as well as protecting against discrimination. The order also eliminates a key provision intended to ensure victims of sexual harassment and discrimination can have their day in court, rather than forcing them into mandatory arbitration. While the substance of these worker protection laws remains, a critical tool for strengthening adherence to those laws has been eliminated.
The attempt to gut the 2014 Obama order has been building almost since President Obama signed it. Companies contracting with the federal government consistently complained about -- and misrepresented -- the burden they faced under Obama’s executive order before and after Trump took office. An October 2016 ruling by a federal judge also threatened Obama’s order, enjoining enforcement of certain regulations that gave effect to key aspects of the order. In March, Congress passed a resolution further neutralizing Obama’s order. Such moves clearly signal to companies who repeatedly violate workers’ rights that doing so will not hinder their ability to do business with the federal government.
Trump signing this order should come as no surprise. It is the pure manifestation of Trump and Steve Bannon’s vision of government, which caters to the will of corporate interests and reinforces a false narrative that they are standing up for workers. It furthers their goal of de-regulation and Bannon’s attempt to deconstruct and dismantle core government functioning.
Obama’s Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces executive order was a logical and necessary step to give real meaning to labor laws that have been in effect for decades. CCR has long fought for these protections and for corporate accountability, from the groundbreaking sex discrimination case of Monell v. Department of Social Services in 1978, to challenging the racially discriminatory hiring practices of the Fire Department of New York in United States of America and Vulcan Society, Inc. v. City of New York, as well as litigating cases against corporations for serious human rights abuses under the Alien Tort Statute.