By Celine McNicholas, Economic Policy Institute
Last week, Senator Warren, joined by her colleagues Senator Murray and Senator Sanders, asked Attorney General Sessions to open a criminal investigation into the deaths and serious injuries of workers employed by VT Halter Marine, Inc., a shipbuilder with United States Navy contracts. Senators argue that, while the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has assessed penalties against VT Halter, the fines “are clearly not a sufficient deterrent for VT Halter.” The senators’ request follows a report from the Center for Investigative Reporting documenting VT Halter’s history of violating workplace safety regulations. Despite the company’s track record, it has continued to receive hundreds of millions of dollars in federal contracts.
Today, the Senate is voting on a resolution of disapproval to block the Obama administration’s Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces rule that would help ensure that law-breaking employers, like VT Halter, do not receive federal contracts. The rule requires contractors to disclose violations of federal labor and employment laws, including the Occupational Safety and Health Act, and directs agency contracting officials to consider a company’s record of violations in awarding federal contracts. President Trump has already stated that he will sign the resolution and block the rule. This, as he announced his intention to increase military spending, leading to hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars going to federal contractors for the development of new ships, planes, and technology in support of our military. By blocking the rule designed to reform federal contracting, the president and congressional Republicans have essentially ensured that taxpayers will continue to support contractors with a history of violating worker protection laws and regulations.
Senator Warren and her colleagues are working to prevent companies that violate worker safety and health protections from doing business as usual. They are making it clear to Attorney General Sessions that they value the Worker Endangerment Initiative, a 2015 plan the Departments of Justice and Labor established to more effectively prosecute crimes that put the lives and health of workers at risk, and that they expect him to continue to prosecute these important cases. President Trump’s nominee to serve as secretary of labor, R. Alexander Acosta, should pay attention to the letter as well. The senators who signed the letter serve on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee and will have the opportunity to ask him about his position on the importance of the Worker Endangerment Initiative and other efforts to ensure worker safety measures are effectively enforced when he appears before the committee for his confirmation hearing.
If congressional Republicans and the Trump administration block the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces rule, there will be no effective system in place to ensure that taxpayer dollars support contractors with good health and safety records. Who benefits from this? Contractors that kill and injure workers. Senator Warren and her colleagues have made it clear that they find this unacceptable. This week, we will see where the president and senate Republicans stand.