Op Ed

Sanders hearing: Federal contractors are guilty until proven innocent, keep workers in the dark on rights

Published in The Center Square
May 4, 2022
By F. Vincent Vernuccio, president of Institute for the American Worker

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-VT, wants to stop workers from knowing about their rights and also go back to the days of employers being guilty until proven innocent. The Senate Budget Committee Chairman will hold a hearing Thursday asking “Should Taxpayer Dollars Go to Companies that Violate Labor Laws?”

He is likely trying to resurrect a failed Obama-era executive order, generally known as “Blacklisting,” and to take away the right to a secret ballot in union elections for employees of federal contractors.

Obama’s Blacklisting Executive Order made federal contractors guilty until proven innocent, jeopardizing their contracts with the federal government over alleged (i.e., not proven) allocations of labor law violations.
Blacklisting targeted federal contractors, requiring them to report “mere allegations of labor law violations” as a Texas court noted in 2016 when it issued an injunction of the Obama Order.

The reports could then have been used to punish or disqualify the contractors from winning bids. Blacklisting was eventually overturned by Congress in 2017.

However, President Joe Biden has pledged to go further than Blacklisting. In 2020, then-candidate Biden’s campaign wrote, as president he would “ensure federal contracts only go to employers who sign neutrality agreements committing not to run anti-union campaigns.” In other words, not talk to their employees about unionization.

Sanders followed up on that campaign promise with a letter to President Biden on April 26, 2022, writing, “The essence of your plan for strengthening union organizing was to make sure that federal dollars do not flow into the hands of unscrupulous employers who engage in union-busting, participate in wage theft, or violate labor law … I urge you to sign an Executive Order preventing companies that violate federal labor laws from contracting with the federal government.”

The letter echoes Biden’s push to stifle employer speech without going through Congress. Biden and Sanders want employees to be told only one side of the story when unions try to organize them.

This can most recently be seen in the General Counsel for the National Labor Relations Board Jennifer Abruzzo’s memo preventing any employer from talking to employees about unionization in required work meetings.

In addition, by requiring federal contractors to agree to these neutrality agreements, it also means that their employees will lose the right to a secret ballot in union organizing elections.

Unions will be able to organize via card check, an open petition process that can result in intimidation and deception of workers.

However, if Sanders wants to penalize job creators getting federal contracts for alleged violations of labor law he should also deny federal funds to unions who harass current or prospective members, or are convicted of corruption.

For example, federal unions should be disqualified from getting “official time” if there are harassment or corruption allegations.

Official time is when union officials are doing union work but getting paid a taxpayer funded salary.

The Office of Personnel Management’s latest report shows that taxpayers were paying almost $135 million for official time in 2019, which was down from over $177 million in 2016.

The declines may have been because of the Trump Administration’s attempts to safeguard taxpayer dollars but those reforms were repealed by the Biden Administration.

It should be noted that the largest federal union, the American Federation of Government Employees, is fending off corruption charges regarding former President J. David Cox misusing union resources, which according to Federal News Network include “using a contracted limousine service to visit bars and strip clubs, that he wrongfully terminated an employee on the basis of racial discrimination, and that Cox and AFGE created a hostile work environment for racial minorities.”

An example from the private sector is the United Auto Workers, which has been rocked by corruption yet still receives millions in grants from the United States Department of Labor.

If Sen. Sanders truly cared about workers and safeguarding taxpayer dollars, he would not be going after job creators or at least putting in as much effort protecting federal funding from corrupt unions as he is to going after employers.