New pro-employee federal rule seeks to promote workplace safety

One sad reality in the American workplace from a national perspective is that the competitive bidding process for federal contracts has arguably not done enough consistently to identify and weed out bad-faith bidders that seek to profit at the expense of more conscientious companies.

For example, federal regulators might award -- and have in many instances -- a contractor having a sketchy record regarding its behavior toward employees in lieu of a bidder that more scrupulously follows labor laws that promote workplace safety and fair play.

Such a result is obviously unpalatable for myriad reasons. On the one hand, it discourages good-faith employers while lowering the bar for companies that might otherwise have to up their game to garner bids. And on the other hand, of course, it hurts workers by rewarding an employer's laxity that results in a more dangerous and inequitable work environment.

An executive order executed in 2014 squarely addresses such concerns. Following a bit more dusting off and tweaking, the so-called Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Executive Order will become a final U.S. Department of Labor regulation this October.

Most centrally, its thrust is to ensure that only truly qualified and conscientious employers are awarded federal contracts. Regulators seek to obtain that result by vetting bidders through a new process that requires them to disclose key information regarding how they have treated their workers in prior years.

Specifically, bidders will soon be required to submit data on their historical performance regarding pay matters, health and safety measures, civil rights protections accorded in the workplace and additionally relevant factors.

"Federal contracts should deliver value for taxpayers in a way that is consistent with our nation's values," said U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez recently.

Hopefully a number of less-than-stellar companies that routinely vie for federal contracts will now be inspired to improve their performance.

If they don't, vows the Labor Department, they will find themselves on the outside looking in when contracts are awarded.

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