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Feds award contracts to companies with labor violations

When it comes to regulating safety, health and wage regulations, the federal government has a significant amount of resources devoted to creating regulations, inspecting business and enforcing the regulations by punishing violations. The Department of Labor and its agencies like the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), work to protect workers and stop violations.

In addition to the "stick," the federal government wields an additional tool to bring companies into compliance with workplace safety and labor laws. Contracts. Or more precisely, the $500 billion the government spends on those contracts. The "carrot" of these contracts can be used to ensure companies follow the rules and do the right thing for their workers.

Sadly, members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee found that nearly 30 percent of federal contracts were going to companies that paid significant penalties for violating federal labor laws.

While contracting officers are supposed to determine if an outside contractor complies with the law before awarding a contract, this often does not happen. Part of the problem is that the officers frequently lack the information on the violations.

The government has a database that is supposed to track these violations and permit easy access for contract officers to determine the extent of compliance, but the database is missing many of the violations those officers would need to review.

The report notes that one company was fined $2.5 million for a fatal workplace incident where a worker was sucked into an industrial drier. The incident was not in the database, so the contract officers could not have considered it when they awarded $3.4 million in contracts.

The committee recommends changes to ensure that workers are not placed at risk, while the companies they work for are rewarded with large government contracts.

Source: New Jersey Herald, "Study: Labor violations don't stop gov't contracts," Sam Hananel, AP, December 11, 2013

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