As the clock winds down on President Barack Obama's second term, congressional Republicans are quietly working to roll back his signature labor policy initiatives. Their latest move, hidden deep within a defense appropriations bill, is language that would exempt Pentagon subcontractors from one of the Obama administration's labor rules.
Buried on page 523 of the Senate's proposed National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 is a provision that would weaken Obama's "Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Executive Order." That July 2014 order, which has not yet been implemented, would require that federal agencies crack down on private contractors who repeatedly violate labor law. The order would also require that private companies disclose recent labor law violations when they apply for federal contracts.
The Senate NDAA stipulates that Defense Department contractors and subcontractors will not be "compelled or required to comply with the conditions for contracting eligibility" outlined in the executive order. The House version of the NDAA, which passed last week, also includes a provision intended to undermine the order.
The proposed exemption for military contractors is part of a broader Republican campaign to roll back the Obama administration's labor regulations.
Last week, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., announced that he would lead the fight to undo a recent expansion of paid overtime eligibility. Business groups have vigorously lobbied against the expansion, which could make 4.2 million workers in the United States newly eligible for paid overtime.
Congressional Republicans are also trying to thwart a new Labor Department regulation that mandates that retirement professionals put their clients' interests first when advising them. Meanwhile, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce is scheduled to hold a hearing Wednesday to scrutinize federal workplace safety rules.
The congressional debate over whether to exempt defense contractors from new labor regulations comes as the National Labor Relations Board is examining one particular company with a defense contract. On Monday, the NLRB issued a formal complaint against Seven Hills, a restaurant management company that manages several fast-food franchises located in the Pentagon.
The NLRB complaint accuses the contractor of illegally retaliating against employees who protested to demand higher wages and union representation. The workers were affiliated with Good Jobs Nation, a labor group that organizes employees of companies with federal contracts.
It was Good Jobs Nation that first brought the complaint to the NLRB. The group has spent the past few years organizing a series of daylong strikes in federally contracted workplaces, with the intent of pressuring the White House to reform federal rules around contracting. The Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces order was in part a response to Good Jobs Nation activism.
“It’s ironic that the GOP claims defense contractors follow the law even though a U.S. government investigation revealed that Pentagon contract workers are being threatened, intimidated and even fired for exercising our legal rights," Pentagon food court worker Mayra Tito said in a Monday statement issued by Good Jobs Nation.
Jonathan Greenbaum, one of the attorneys representing Seven Hills, told International Business Times the NLRB complaint had no merit. He said the work stoppages led by Good Jobs Nation did not meet the legal definition of concerted action, which is what the National Labor Relations Act protects against management retaliation.
"The strikes conducted by Good Jobs Nation are unlawful strikes. They're what are called intermittent strikes," he said. "For publicity only."
An administrative law judge will hear arguments from the NLRB and attorneys representing Seven Hills this summer.