On Monday March 6th, the Senate passed yet another “resolution of disapproval,” effectively rescinding an Obama regulation meant to track companies’ violations of labor laws – including minimum wage, overtime, and health and safety statutes – to prevent the federal government from contracting such corporations. This regulation, known as the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces rule, would have stopped tax payers’ money from going toward businesses who exploit their employees. It would have done this by forcing federal contractors to tell the government of any previous labor law violations. President Donald Trump is expected to sign the bill into law.
Debbie Berkowitz, a workplace safety expert at the National Employment Law Project, was quoted by the Huffington Post as saying: “It’s insane. This is really a vote against working families. There’s been a big misinformation campaign by big business.” Those in favor of workplace regulations, argue that rules like this one keep the most pernicious companies away from taxpayer money, while opponents alleged that rules like these treat companies unfairly and without due process. However, the regulation in question wouldn’t have completely barred companies with a history of labor violations. Employers could show that there were extenuating circumstances that caused certain behavior.
It is a question as to how many federal contractors would have been affected by this regulation. According to the Labor Department, 14,000 companies would have had to submit any labor law violations, but only a handful of those companies would have committed violations serious enough to be excluded from federal contracts. However, according to Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), leading up to the vote, there was a report showing that 66 of 100 large companies working with the federal government have broken labor laws.
This is just one among many attempts by the GOP to slash Obama-era regulations using an obscure, rarely used legal mechanism known as the Congressional Review Act (CRA). The CRA allows Congress to repeal regulations 60 legislative days after their enactment. To do this, they only need a simple majority, hence the Republicans’ ability to roll back an Obama-era regulation that keeps big business in check with a vote of 49 to 48. Additionally, CRA blocks further attempts by regulators to write “substantially” similar rules.
This is not the first workplace regulation to come under fire. The Huffington Post reported earlier in March that House Republicans voted to repeal a workplace safety rule, known as the Volks Rule, which requires employers to keep better records of workplace injuries. According to Jordan Barab, a former official in the Obama administration, beyond ensuring a safer environment for workers, the Volks Rule gives the Bureau of Labor Statistics access to numbers that help “determine national trends in workplace safety and health.”
In just a few weeks’ time, the GOP-led Congress has rolled back over a dozen Obama-era regulations and seeks to repeal even more. Given the time limitations of CRA, they will have to race against the clock to rescind even a portion of the 145 rules that could be taken off the books under CRA.