Contact:
Virginia Rodino, Virginia.rodino@seiu.org, 202-465-0918

Issued August 24, 2016

Workers cheer Obama Administration's new 'contractor accountability' rules

Will hold law-breaking federal contractors accountable for violating employees' labor rights

Final regulations for President Obama’s Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Executive Order were released today -- a development cheered by the 2 million working men and women of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). Implementation of these regulations will help protect taxpayers, law-abiding businesses, and the more than one in five Americans who are employed by companies that do business with the federal government.

The order will help end the practice of awarding long-time law-breaking companies federal contracts worth billions of dollars.  With the new regulations, government  can identify companies with egregious violations and encourage them to clean up their acts and stop harming American working families before receiving future contracts.

Helen Avalos, a 39-year-old single mom of three works as a housekeeper for a federal contractor at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. “Two years ago I stood with President Obama as he signed the executive order. As a Latina who has suffered racial discrimination in the workplace, and seen other minorities discriminated against, I was very proud to be at our president’s side as he approved policies which would hold companies accountable who treat their workers unfairly,” she said. “Having stronger protections at work gives me peace of mind knowing that not only do I have my coworkers’ support, but also the strength of the government to hold my employer accountable if it breaks the law. We work hard to make sure soldiers and sailors get the best service; this is not a place for companies that cheat their workers out of their wages.”

All too often, workers employed by federal contractors are cheated out of the wages they are owed, or they are injured or even killed on the job.  According to a 2013 U.S. Senate report, nearly 1 in 3 companies with the worst safety and wage violations are federal contractors. Law-breaking government contractors shortchanged their workers by $82 million in wage theft and at least 42 workers died at the contracting companies with the worst safety violations, yet these law-breaking companies still received $81 billion in federal contracts in a single year.

Juan Alas, President of federal contractor Star Contract Services in Hyattsville, Md., said, “As a contractor that has done business with the federal government, I eagerly look forward to the implementation of the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces regulations.  Too often, some companies continue to receive federal contracts worth billions of dollars despite long records of violating workplace laws. These policies will allow our government to identify companies with egregious violations and encourage them to clean up their acts before they can receive any future contracts – and it will help level the playing field for companies like ours that provide fair wages and benefits.”

“Too many federal contract jobs are low-paying and poor quality, leaving workers especially vulnerable to abusive employment practices,” said Mary Kay Henry, International President of SEIU. “These low-road practices have dire consequences for workers and their families. One in five federal contract workers does not earn enough to keep a family of four out of poverty, and these workers, many of them women, often do not receive benefits. By requiring that an employer’s workplace violations be taken into consideration when the government awards federal contracts, it will no longer be acceptable to award federal contracts to companies that engage in age, disability, race, and sex discrimination.”

Petrona Cruz Lazo, a 61-year-old custodian who works for a federal contractor at the U.S. Army’s Fort Belvoir, said, “I really love my job and the people I work with. I’m a part of keeping the base safe and sanitary for the soldiers and researchers to be able to do their job. In 2012, a new contractor took over at Fort. Belvoir and they promptly broke their service contract, lowering our shifts from 8 to 7 hours. They operated illegally like this for almost a year, which meant we had no benefits: no health insurance, no sick days, no vacation. 

“During this time, heartbreakingly, my mother who lives in Honduras, became very very sick and had to be hospitalized,” Lazo said. “I already help her pay for food, rent and medicine. With my wages cut and no sick or vacation days, I couldn’t afford to take off to be with her through this very difficult time. I was forced to take loans and borrow money from others to help pay for her medical costs. My youngest daughter is earning an advanced medical degree at Stafford University and needs my help as any college student would with tuition, books, and food. I can’t help my family when my employer is breaking the law and treating its employees unfairly.”

The reduced hours also hurt Ana Ayala, a 53-year-old single mom who also works as a custodian at Ft. Belvoir. In addition to her 9-year-old daughter, Ayala has two other children who are now adults with mortgages of their own, and Ayala helps them as much as she can through her job as a custodian, which she has held for 17 years.

“I had to leave my daughter alone for longer hours because I had to look for other jobs on nights and the weekend when my employer broke its service contract with the government and illegally cut our hours. I didn’t see my daughter until late at night, and she was already sleeping. That just really hurt me. I can’t get that time back. We need the final regulations for the Executive Order to be issued soon. It will be a relief for all of us. There have been a lot of families suffering, and not just on Ft. Belvoir. That law will really benefit us. We’ve been fighting a lot, it’s been too many years, no one really hears us now. It’s not fair for working families making sure that the government bases are safe and clean. No one hears how we are suffering,” Ayala said.

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