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Opinion Obama’s orders protecting federal contract workers face reversal by Trump

President Obama signs the “Fair Pay and Safe Workplace” executive order in July 2014. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

President Obama has used his pen to improve the lot of individual federal contract workers and shape the balance between contractors and government employees.

Those same executive orders and presidential memorandums could be wiped out by the stroke of another pen, Donald Trump’s.

In a 100-day action plan in his “Contract with the American Voter,” Trump promised to “cancel every unconstitutional executive action, memorandum and order issued by President Obama.”

The 100-day clock starts Friday with Trump’s inauguration. We don’t know what’s on the chopping block, but trade associations are willing to show him what to ax.

An August 2015 letter from four government contracting associations to White House Chief of Staff Denis R. McDonough and Senior Adviser Valerie B. Jarrett said Obama had issued 12 government contracting executive orders resulting in 16 new regulations. It was sent by the Aerospace Industries Association, National Defense Industrial Association, Professional Services Council (PSC) and Information Technology Industry Council.

“[T]he net effect has been to significantly increase the costs of doing business with the government …” the letter said. “Therefore, on behalf of the thousands of companies our organizations represent and their hundreds of thousands of employees, we respectfully request that no further presidential directives primarily focused on government contractors be issued for the foreseeable future.”

The future starts this weekend. Don’t expect low-wage workers to celebrate.

The list of orders has grown slightly since the organizations sent their letter, “which was not formally responded to,” according to Alan L. Chvotkin, PSC’s executive vice president. PSC has asked the Trump transition team to evaluate certain executive orders “for near term action.”

Although the associations claimed to speak on behalf of the companies’ employees, those workers benefit from many of the regulations the companies oppose. Other business organizations challenged Obama’s “Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces” directive that allowed agencies to bar contracts to firms with workplace violations.

A federal-district court judge in Beaumont, Tex., agreed with the corporate groups and largely blocked implementation of the order the day before it would have taken effect in October. This is an easy one for Trump to nix. He doesn’t have to do anything but let the judge’s order stand.

Instead of rolling back advances, the federal government needs to do more to protect low-income people, according to Joseph Geevarghese, director of Good Jobs Nation, an advocate for low-wage federal contract workers.

“Right now the federal government is America’s #1 low-wage job creator, creating more poverty jobs than Walmart and McDonald’s combined,” Geevarghese said. “President Obama’s recent executive orders to raise the minimum wage, crack down on wage theft and extend paid leave on federal contracts begin to tackle this problem.”

Among the actions affecting contractors and their employees are:

Executive Order 13494 Jan. 30, 2009, disallowing “certain costs that are not directly related to the contractors’ provision of goods and services”

Executive Order 13495, Jan. 30, 2009, protecting the employment of contract employees when a “follow-on contract” succeeds one that expired

Executive Order 13502, Feb. 6, 2009, encouraging executive agencies to consider “project labor agreements in connection with large-scale construction projects in order to promote economy and efficiency in Federal procurement.”

Executive Order 13627, Sept. 25, 2012, “strengthening protections against trafficking in persons in federal contracts”

Executive Order 13658, Feb. 12, 2014, establishing a $10.10 hourly minimum wage for contractors and allowing for annual increases.

Executive Order 13665, April 8, 2014, prohibiting retaliation against any contract employee or applicant who “has inquired about, discussed, or disclosed the compensation of the employee or applicant or another employee or applicant.”

Executive Order 13672, July 21, 2014, “prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity”

Executive Order 13673, July 31, 2014, the Fair Pay and Safe Workplace directive “to require prospective federal contractors to disclose labor law violations and give agencies guidance on how to consider labor violations when awarding federal contracts”

Executive Order 13693, March 19, 2015, “to maintain Federal leadership in sustainability and greenhouse gas emission reductions”

Executive Order 13706, Sept. 7, 2015, “establishing paid sick leave for federal contractors.”

“If Mr. Trump rolls back these executive orders, it would be tantamount to breaking his campaign pledge to deliver ‘more jobs and better wages for the working class,” Geevarghese said.

The trade associations don’t agree.

In addition to the executive orders increasing the costs, the contractor associations’ letter said, “the impacts, inefficiencies, and in many cases, unintended consequences are such that the interests of the American taxpayer are being significantly and negatively impacted.”

But if things like paid sick leave, a minimum wage and protection from workplace violators are dumped, it is the contractor employees who would pay the price.

Read more:

Obama administration moves against federal contractors that owed back pay to workers

Decision stymies order on contracts