Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘Senate HELP Committee’

Mugno or not to Mugno: The Senate Must Decide

Tuesday, December 11th, 2018

As the sun sets on the 115th Congress and the mid-point of this term of the Trump administration, the sun also seems to be setting on any chance of seeing an Assistant Secretary for OSHA in the foreseeable future.

Or maybe not….

You may recall that former FedEx Ground safety director and Chamber of Commerce favorite Scott Mugno was nominated by President Trump in October 2017, has survived a Senate confirmation hearing and has been approved by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension (HELP) committee (twice) on party-line votes. But Mugno’s nomination has never come to a final vote on the floor of the Senate.

Politico’s Morning Shift reminded us last week that the nomination of Mugno, as well as the nominations of Cheryl Stanton for the agency’s Wage and Hour Division, William Beach at the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and Gordon Hartogensis with the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation continue to be mired in a fight over the confirmation of two Democratic favorites: Mark Gaston Pearce to be reconfirmed for a seat on the National Labor Relations Board, and Chai Feldblum to be reconfirmed for a seat on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. (There are two other DOL nominees out there as well: John Pallasch for assistant secretary for employment and training was cleared by the Senate Committee last week, and Bryan Jarrett for assistant secretary for policy has not yet had a hearing. )

The business community (e.g. Chamber of Commerce and others) and their Republican cohorts in the Senate hate, Hate, HATE the idea of confirming Pearce and Feldblum more than they love the idea of having someone head the other labor agencies. The Chamber opposes Pearce because he “engineered some of the most harmful decisions and regulations in the Board’s history.”  And even though he was only on the Board from 2010 to 2018, he somehow managed to reverse “more than 4,550 years of precedent,” causing King Tut to roll over in his sarcophagus. According to Bloomberg Law, the Republicans fear that Pearce will slow down their efforts to roll back worker protections that were strengthened under Obama. But their real worry is that if Trump is defeated in 2020, Pearce would be the likely candidate to become NLRB Chair — with the downfall of Western Civilization shortly to follow.

Chai Feldblum served as EEOC chair throughout the Obama administration and has been renominated by Trump.  Her main sin is being an “open” lesbian and gay rights activist which is more important than the fact that she is a graduate of Harvard Law, clerked for Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun, and is a Georgetown Law School professor.  Utah Senator Mike Lee is particularly incensed with Feldblum’s nomination, calling her a “threat to religious liberty and the institution of marriage.”

Senator Patty Murray, ranking member of the HELP committee reemphasized last week that Democrats would continue to block the Labor Department nominees until the Senate confirms Pearce and Feldblum.

Why did Trump renominate these candidates who threaten the American way of life?

Because the party controlled by the President gets three appointees to these Boards, while the minority party gets two. Traditionally, the parties get to put up their own candidates who are then nominated by the President. In other words, they’re traditionally a package. Technically, the Democrats can’t block the DOL nominees because the Republicans eliminated their ability to require 60 votes, but Democrats can force Senate Leader Mitch McConnell to consider the confirmation of each candidate separately (instead of as a package), which would take up an enormous amount of scarce Senate floor time that McConnell would rather use to confirm Trump’s judges and higher level nominees. If the nominees aren’t confirmed in the next couple of weeks before this session of Congress ends, the entire nomination process starts all over again.

So what will happen? Will the dam break next week? Rumors of high level talks between the Democrats, McConnell and the White House have been flying, but if I had a nickel for every time a deal was reported to be imminent…

This blog was originally published at Confined Space on December 6, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jordan Barab was Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor at OSHA from 2009 to 2017, and spent 16 years running the safety and health program at the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).

Uncle Sam’s Hiring Practices

Wednesday, December 18th, 2013

Bruce VailA pair of reports released this week show that the federal government routinely ignores worker safety and labor law violations when awarding contracts to private companies—and that American taxpayers are cheated in the process.

The first  comes from the staff of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pension (HELP) Committee, which conducted a yearlong investigation of federal contracting records. Unveiled Wednesday by HELP Chairman Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), the report provides a long list of specific companies that break safety and labor laws yet continue to receive big government contracts. In particular, it names 49 law-breaking contractors that got more than $81 billion from Uncle Sam in 2012 alone—including AT&T, Home Depot and GM.

The HELP report was paired with one from the Center For American Progress (CAP) Action Fund, a Democratic Party advocacy group, which examined whether government contractors are actually fulfilling their contracts. The CAP report found that a number of companies shortchange taxpayers through poor performance, and names specific companies that stand out in this respect, including Lockheed Martin and KBR. Some of these scofflaw companies, such as international oil giant BP, overlapped with the HELP report lists.

The CAP report was presented Wednesday by Chairman John Podesta in a joint appearance with Harkin at CAP’s Washington D.C. headquarters.

Both Harkin and Podesta trace the origin of their respective reports to a 2010 study by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) that analyzed official data on safety and labor law violations by government contractors. That GAO report found that known violators routinely received new government contracts. It failed to name the specific contractor companies guilty of violations, however, and the HELP report was designed to provide the public with those names, as well as to bring the information up to date through 2012, according to Harkin. CAP report co-author David Madland says his effort “provides a nice complement” to the HELP analysis by highlighting that the contracting problem is not solely a labor issue, but also one of good government administration and the concern of taxpayers over wasteful spending.

The names of federal contractors guilty of fatal worker safety violations will be familiar to most Working In These Times readers. Harkin began his presentation by pointing to the workplace deaths of 10 employees in three separate incidents at the facilities of laundry operator Cintas Corp., shipbuilder ST Engineering Ltd. and oil refiner Tesoro Corp.  Despite these deaths, all three companies received federal contracts in 2012, with Tesoro alone getting $463 million last year, the report states. A lengthier list of safety violators (some fatal, some non-fatal) includes international oil giant BP, commodities conglomerate Louis Dreyfus Group, beef and chicken processor Tyson Foods, auto manufacturers General Motors and Chrysler, and defense contractor General Dynamics. Eighteen such companies received almost $23 billion in federal contracts between 2006 and 2013, the report details.

Harkin pointed out that of 18 companies with terrible safety records, only one, BP, had ever been barred from federal contracts—and that suspension from new contracts was spurred by the environmental damage from the 2010 Deep Water Horizon oil rig explosion, not from the safety violations (although 10 workers were killed). Federal contracting officers routinely ignore the bad worker safety records of companies competing for government business, he added, and reforms are needed to correct the problem.

Similar issues are raised when analyzing the records on wage-and-hour law violations, according to both HELP and CAP. Again the HELP report unearths many household names from the Department of Labor records of companies obliged to make back wage payments to workers for legal violations. Among them are Hewlett-Packard Co., AT&T, General Dynamics, Nestle S.A., Lockheed Martin Corp., Cerberus Capital Management, and Home Depot Inc. A group of the 32 worst offenders received  $73.1 billion from the federal government between 2007 and 2012, the HELP report says.

Harkin conceded that not all violations are so serious that contractors should be punished by exclusion from government business. Some violations apparently arise from simple errors, unavoidable accidents or other benign sources, he said. However, when the Labor Department finds willful and repeated violations, it can assess civil penalties. Harkin suggested that the contractors penalized in this way should receive special scrutiny before any new contracts are awarded. HELP researchers came up with the names of Sprint Nextel Corp, UnitedHealth Group, Marriott International, C&S Wholesalers Inc., Acosta Inc. and University of Pittsburgh Medical Center as examples of contractors already assessed for “severe and repeated” violations of labor law. Together, those six companies received about $470 million in federal contracts in 2012 alone, the report said.

Like the safety violators, none of the wage-and-hour labor-law violators have been barred from the further government contracts, Harkin emphasized. “There is an existing legal requirement (that contractors obey labor law) but it’s clear to me that compliance is not being considered” when new contracts are awarded, he said.

CAP came up with some of the same names when it separately analyzed the government data and “found that the companies with the worst records of harming workers were also guilty of shortchanging taxpayers through poor performance on government contracts and similar business agreements in ways that defraud the government and otherwise provide a bad value for taxpayers.”

Cited in this regard were:

  • KBR, a construction and defense contractor notable for its work in Iraq and Afghanistan, which received $11.4 billion in contracts between 2009 and 2013
  • BP, the international oil giant, which received $4.6 billion in contracts (plus $433 million in offshore oil and gas leases) 2009-20013
  • Corrections Corporation of America or CCA, the nation’s largest operator of private prisons, which got $2.3 billion in government contracts 2009-2013
  • Akai Security, notable for its agreements to provide private security at Department of Justice facilities nationwide, which got $3.6 billion on government contracts 2009-2013
  • Wackenhut Services, whose subsidiary ArmorGroup of North America provides private security guards at U.S. embassies overseas, which got $1.7 billion 2009-2012
  • Lockheed Martin, a diversified military contractor, which got $170 billion 2009-2013
  • Group Health Cooperative, a health maintenance organization (HMO), which got $20.2 million 2009-2012

Both Harkin and Podesta were full of righteous indignation about this state of affairs at their joint appearance Wednesday, but neither offered any sweeping new proposals to fix the problem. The HELP report states that existing law allows federal contract administrators to exclude offending companies and suggests that improved reporting and database management by the Labor Department could make it easier to bar scofflaw companies. It also proposes that President Barack Obama issue several small-scale executive orders that would streamline the process of legally excluding some companies. The CAP conclusion was even less ambitious, merely blaming “weak guidance and lax enforcement of the regulations” for the chronic contracting problems.

It’s possible that in ignoring the possibility of stronger federal laws, both reports implicitly recognized the impracticality of any new legislative initiative in Washington’s current political environment.

CAP’s Madland tells Working In These Times that the new reports represent a continuing effort by Democrats to wrestle with the contracting issue. Reform proposals early in the Obama administration known as “high road” contracting were abandoned in the face of political opposition, he says, but the need to make reforms to the contract process remains. “Workers are being killed because companies cut corners. …The system is broken and needs to be reformed.”

This article was originally printed on Working In These Times on December 12, 2013.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Bruce Vail is a Baltimore-based freelance writer with decades of experience covering labor and business stories for newspapers, magazines and new media. He was a reporter for Bloomberg BNA’s Daily Labor Report, covering collective bargaining issues in a wide range of industries, and a maritime industry reporter and editor for the Journal of Commerce, serving both in the newspaper’s New York City headquarters and in the Washington, D.C. bureau.

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