On Monday, March 6th, the Senate voted to eliminate a safety rule issued by the U.S. Department of Labor in August. The rule, developed under the Obama administration, would require federal contractors to disclose and correct serious safety violations made over the previous three years when bidding for new contracts.
During the vote, Republicans scored a narrow victory against Democrats voting 49-48 to eliminate the regulation. While Republicans and business groups are praising the outcome, Democrats point out the safety issues that led to the regulation being formed in the first place.
A report issued by Senate Democrats in 2013 found that almost 30 percent of the top violators of federal wage and safety laws from 2007 to 2012 had received federal contracts. This, and incidents like Rodney Bridgett’s, who was crushed by a piece of heavy equipment when a chain snapped on one of Tyson Foods beef processing plant’s “kill floor,” spurred the development of legislation to protect workers. OSHA investigators determined that Tyson’s supervisors had repeatedly failed to inspect the faulty chain leading to Rodney’s death. The regulation would have required federal contractors to disclose recent safety problems like these before bidding for contracts.
Before the Senate vote, the White House issued the following statement, commenting that the rule “would bog down Federal procurement with unnecessary and burdensome processes that would result in delays, and decreased competition for Federal government contracts.” Additionally, in a letter to Congress in February, business groups commented that the rule would be “costly, unnecessary and unworkable” and “will only tie up law-abiding employers in red tape and make a system intended to protect workers less efficient.”
Contractors employ about a quarter of the American workforce. According to the U.S. Treasury, the government spent about $471 billion on contracts last year. Now that the House Republicans and the Senate have voted to overturn the rule, the final step will be approval from President Trump, who has made overturning Obama-era corporate regulations a priority of his administration’s first 100 days.