The Electrical Worker online
November 2014

From the Officers
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It is simple. It is frugal. It is just and obvious, and sadly — but not surprisingly — the opponents of organized labor are fighting against it.

"It" is an executive order signed by President Obama in July that will make it much more difficult for companies to win federal contracts if they have violated federal wage, safety and civil rights laws. (See more: Executive Order Strikes Blow Against Crooked Federal Contractors.)

Simple decency provides all the justification necessary: if one part of the government is busy fining you for breaking the law, another part of the government shouldn't be hiring you to do more of the same. What could be more obvious? If you steal wages or endanger the health and safety of taxpayers, their money should be off limits to you.

As I see it, the only reasoned criticism is that it took until 2014. After more than 50 years in the labor movement, I do not usually underestimate the cynicism and greed of anti-worker organizations like the Associated Builders and Contractors. I figured they wouldn't like it but would have the good sense to stew in silence. They surprised me.

ABC officials told The New York Times they were "deeply concerned." The order was "heavy handed… may lead to additional costs and blacklisting" and they were "prepared to fight in Congress and the courts." A vice president from the National Association of Manufacturers said companies would be sanctioned "for even minor violations of complex labor laws." The president of the International Franchise Association said it held business to "an unreasonable standard of perfection."

There is a great Yiddish word that came to me as I read this shameful litany: chutzpah. It means gall or nerve, as in, "You've got some nerve." The classic way to explain chutzpah is a person who kills both his parents and begs the court for mercy because he is an orphan.

This is what they are defending: between 2007 and 2011, 49 federal contractors were fined nearly $200 million for 1,776 wage and safety violations. Included in that list are violations — not unforeseeable accidents, but violations of the law — that resulted in the death of 42 workers. These companies still received federal contracts worth $89 billion. In 2012. A single year.

They should be embarrassed. That's chutzpah.


Also: Hill: A Good Jobs Boom? Read Hill's Column

Salvatore J. Chilia

Salvatore J. Chilia
International Secretary-Treasurer