President Obama signed an executive order on Thursday designed to protect employees of federal contractors. The order will require contractors to disclose any violations of labor law within the last three years before receiving new federal contracts, and it will adjust procurement procedures to protect contractors with no record of violating the law.
"We expect our tax dollars to be spent wisely on these contracts," the president said. "Our tax dollars shouldn't go to companies that violate workplace laws, they shouldn't go to companies that violate workers' rights."
The president acknowledged that the "vast majority" of contractors comply fully with labor laws. "But some don't," he added, "and I don't want those who don't to be getting a competitive advantage over the folks who are doing the right thing."
A White House fact sheet distributed Thursday morning argued that "contractors who invest in their workers' safety and maintain a fair and equitable workplace shouldn't have to compete with contractors who offer low-ball bids -- based on savings from skirting the law -- and then ultimately deliver poorer performance to taxpayers."
The new order will also require contractors to provide clear information about employee compensation on pay stubs, a change the White House hopes will allow employees to "verify the accuracy of their paycheck."
And the order will forbid contractors from requiring employees to enter into arbitration agreements for disputes regarding sexual assault, harassment, or other workplace violations.
Critics say large corporations use the mandatory arbitration agreements to avoid the more costly prospect of litigation, and the president said the order will help ensure that workers who allege sexual assault or other violations will get "their day in court."
The new order will impact any new federal contracts valued at more than $500,000, according to the White House, and it will be "implemented on new contracts in stages, on a prioritized basis, during 2016."The Labor Department estimates that roughly 24,000 businesses with federal contracts, employing about 28 million workers, could be affected.
The order signed Thursday is the latest example of the president's use of executive authority to advance his policies in the face of a gridlocked Congress. "Any time Congress wants to work with me to help working families, I'm right there. Door's always open," the president said before signing the order. "I'll go to them, wash their car, walk their dog."
"But if they're not going to lift a finger to help working Americans," he added, "then I'm going to work twice as hard."Republicans have accused the president of overreaching in his use of administrative power, crying foul at each new executive order. On Thursday, the House passed a resolution along party lines in support of a lawsuit against Mr. Obama for unilaterally delaying portions of the Affordable Care Act.
The president criticized the lawsuit as "not very productive" on Thursday, but he added, "It's not going to stop me from doing what needs to be done to help working families across this country."