Obama order presses contractors to obey labor laws

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama moved Thursday to require federal contractors to give their workers more rights in labor disputes, putting his pen to an executive order the day after the House voted to sue him for allegedly exceeding his presidential powers. In an election-year dare to Republicans, Obama said congressional obstinacy would only embolden him to take even more aggressive actions on his own.

By forcing companies to disclose recent labor law violations, Obama hopes to pressure the most egregious violators to clean up their act or else lose out on lucrative federal contracts, White House officials said. The order also requires that contractors give their workers information to determine whether their paychecks are accurate, and allow workers to have a judge, not an arbitrator, hear sexual assault and civil rights grievances.

The vast majority of companies that contract with the government play by the rules, Obama said — but some don’t.

“I don’t want those who don’t to be getting a competitive advantage over the folks who are doing the right thing. That’s not fair,” Obama said.

Obama’s order, which doesn’t require approval from Congress, comes as the White House seeks to exploit what it sees as incessant attempts by Republicans to dissuade Obama from taking action on his own.

Facing opposition from Congress that has only grown more unrelenting as the midterm elections approach, Obama has been scanning the federal government for ways to show the merits of his own proposals, albeit on a smaller scale. Already, Obama has signed executive orders requiring federal contractors to pay their workers at least $10.10 an hour, the rate Obama wants Congress to adopt as the national minimum wage, and barring contractors from discriminating against gay or transgender workers.

“We’re not going to stop,” Obama said. “And if they’re not going to lift a finger to help working Americans, then I’m going to work twice as hard to help working Americans.”

But unlike the minimum wage or gay rights, labor laws have not been a major item on Obama’s wish list for Congress. Randy Johnson, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s senior vice president, said there are lots of labor laws already and lots of agencies responsible for enforcing them.

“If the president wants to add the penalty of debarment from federal contracts to be determined by procurement officials without expertise in those laws, he needs to go to Congress and get the proper authority,” Johnson said.

The provision barring mandatory arbitration agreements will apply only to new contracts exceeding $1 million, officials said, and will affect disputes brought under the anti-discrimination section of the Civil Rights Act or accusations of sexual assault or harassment. It mirrors protections Congress already has enacted that apply to Defense Department contracts.

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