Anti-Union Construction Lobby Slammed for Wanting Workplace Violations Kept from the Feds

Slightly lost in a New York Times article about the Obama administration’s summer meetings with groups who want executive action to bypass congressional gridlock is a very telling quote from the notoriously anti-union Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC). The president wants to take issues such as fairness in federal contracting head on without Congress’s hand-tying, but the ABC apparently doesn’t do fairness.

Geoff Burr, Vice President of Federal Affairs for the ABC, said that his organization was contemplating “the virtues of a litigation strategy” following an executive order from President Obama last month that would block companies with a history of workplace violations from receiving federal contracts. 60 percent of the companies who receive federal contracts are members of the ABC.

The ABC’s opposition to a clearly necessary move resulted in a scathing op-ed from the NYT Editorial Board the following day. In “The Right to Cheat and Maim?,” the board writes:

It would seem noncontroversial to advise federal procurement officials to steer clear of companies with repeated and egregious violations that cheat, sicken, harm, and kill workers. But when President Obama signed an executive order in late July to that effect, the pushback from industry was immediate, notably from the Associated Builders and Contractors, whose members do 60 percent of federal construction jobs, and from the International Franchise Association, whose members run concessions at federal venues.

In short, President Obama’s executive order would force firms looking to receive federal contracts to disclose their past labor law violations. It would also create new compliance officers at federal agencies. A no-brainer if ever there was one.

Not so fast, says the shady contractor lobby. This was not the first time Burr was quoted in opposition to these common sense reforms. On August 3rd he told The Hill:

We are concerned these sweeping changes threaten the due process rights of federal contractors and conflict with existing federal procurement and labor law. ABC and the federal contracting community across all industries are prepared to fight this order in the courts and in Congress.”

Citing the rights of contractors seems almost off-topic. After all, they do not have a right to any federal contract. And it’s unclear what right to keeping workplace violations secret they want to hide behind. In the view of the NYT Editorial Board, it is a simple matter of accountability:

It would be outlandish for industry groups to argue that procurement officials and the public do not have the right to know about a contractor’s compliance with federal labor laws or defend practices that hurt workers.

The contractors who oppose the order seem to have forgotten that they are bidding for taxpayer dollars. They are not entitled to contracts; they must qualify. And when they obtain a contract, they are working for the people, not the other way around.

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