Trump Rolls Back Worker Protections on Federal Contracts

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

No strings attached.

Con men love this simple phrasing. They use it all the time. They make an offer too good to be true, then assure their targeted victims that if they accept the offer and turn out not to like it, they can always walk away. No strings.

Corporate executives who vie for lucrative federal government contracts love “no strings,” too. In fact, they’ve taken the “no strings” mantra to an entire new level. They’ve weaponized the concept: First they cheat, then they invoke “no strings” as an excuse to keep cheating.

President Donald Trump has signed legislation that turns this corporate two-step into the law of the land. Under the bill Trump inked, corporate execs can violate federal worker-protection laws on wages, hours, and safety and still qualify for federal contracts.

Back in 2014, President Obama had moved to help make sure that cheating corporations could not qualify for federal contracts. He signed into law an executive order that requires companies bidding for contracts to disclose their previous labor and safety law violations and lets federal agencies bar violators from receiving future government work.

This “Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces” executive order would have gone into final effect this past October. But corporate lobby groups found a judge to put the order temporarily on ice. The bill Trump has just signed makes that ice concrete. No future President can resurrect Obama’s executive order unless Congress first gives a green light.

America’s CEOs now have what they wanted. Obama’s executive order on contracting no longer endangers their basic business model. They can continue “cutting corners.” They can double-down on squeezing workers and sidestepping the statutes meant to protect them.

Today’s CEOs have elevated this corner cutting into somewhat of a corporate art form. But their business model can only work if government plays along. That’s because private corporations depend heavily on public tax dollars. Private-sector firms with federal contracts, a recent report from Senator Elizabeth Warren details, employ over one in five U.S. workers and annually collect about $500 billion in taxpayer dollars.

Local and state governments shell out hundreds of billions more in contracts with private business concerns. All these billions give, at least in theory, the public sector enormous potential power over how enterprises in the private sector behave.

And that’s what worries corporate executives. Their enormous pay packages — and their incredibly comfortable lives — rest on their “freedom” to fatten their corporate bottom lines by whatever means necessary. They don’t want any government “strings” on that freedom.

Other folks, unfortunately, end up paying quite a heavy price to keep Corporate America “free.”

In 2015 and 2016, for instance, four Goodyear Tire employees died in accidents at the company’s factory in Danville, Virginia. In October 2016, Virginia’s Occupational Safety and Health agency fined Goodyear over $1 million in penalties for both “willful” and “serious” safety violations.

Goodyear last year sported, despite these violations, $8.3 million in taxpayer-funded federal contracts.

Goodyear CEO Richard Kramer, meanwhile, personally pocketed paychecks worth $19.8 million in 2016, on top of the $73.5 million in compensation he collected the previous four years.

Now the prospect of losing $8.3 million a year in federal contracts might not be enough to make a big-time chief exec like Goodyear’s Kramer think twice about jeopardizing worker safety. But what if we tightened the strings? What if we went after the executive pay windfalls that give today’s CEOs an almost irresistible incentive to cut corners and cheat?

That string tightening has, in fact, already begun. Cities and states across the United States are moving to leverage the power of the public purse against excessive executive pay. From Rhode Island to California, elected officials are considering statutes that make getting government contracts and tax breaks harder for firms that pay their top execs far more than what they pay their workers.

These new strings make sense. They would also, if we gave them the chance, make our nation a whole lot more equal.


Reposted from Our Future.

Sam Pizzigati edits Too Much, the online weekly on excess and inequality. He is an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C. Last year, he played an active role on the team that generated The Nation magazine special issue on extreme inequality. That issue recently won the 2009 Hillman Prize for magazine journalism. Pizzigati’s latest book, Greed and Good: Understanding and Overcoming the Inequality that Limits Our Lives (Apex Press, 2004), won an “outstanding title” of the year ranking from the American Library Association’s Choice book review journal.

Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

Get to Know AFL-CIO's Affiliates: National Association of Letter Carriers

From the AFL-CIO

Next up in our series that takes a deeper look at each of our affiliates is the National Association of Letter Carriers.

Name of Union: National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC)

Mission: To unite fraternally all city letter carriers employed by the U.S. Postal Service for their mutual benefit; to obtain and secure rights as employees of the USPS and to strive at all times to promote the safety and the welfare of every member; to strive for the constant improvement of the Postal Service; and for other purposes. NALC is a single-craft union and is the sole collective-bargaining agent for city letter carriers.

Current Leadership of Union: Fredric V. Rolando serves as president of NALC, after being sworn in as the union's 18th president in 2009. Rolando began his career as a letter carrier in 1978 in South Miami before moving to Sarasota in 1984. He was elected president of Branch 2148 in 1988 and served in that role until 1999. In the ensuing years, he worked in various roles for NALC before winning his election as a national officer in 2002, when he was elected director of city delivery. In 2006, he won election as executive vice president. Rolando was re-elected as NALC president in 2010, 2014 and 2018.

Brian Renfroe serves as executive vice president, Lew Drass as vice president, Nicole Rhine as secretary-treasurer, Paul Barner as assistant secretary-treasurer, Christopher Jackson as director of city delivery, Manuel L. Peralta Jr. as director of safety and health, Dan Toth as director of retired members, Stephanie Stewart as director of the Health Benefit Plan and James W. “Jim” Yates as director of life insurance.

Number of Members: 291,000 active and retired letter carriers.

Members Work As: City letter carriers.

Industries Represented: The United States Postal Service.

History: In 1794, the first letter carriers were appointed by Congress as the implementation of the new U.S. Constitution was being put into effect. By the time of the Civil War, free delivery of city mail was established and letter carriers successfully concluded a campaign for the eight-hour workday in 1888. The next year, letter carriers came together in Milwaukee and the National Association of Letter Carriers was formed.

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