POLITICS

Trump Signs Law Quietly Undercutting Obama's Protections For LGBTQ Workers

It makes it harder for the federal government to track which contractors are discriminating.

31/03/2017 12:32 AM IST

WASHINGTON ― President Donald Trump signed legislation Monday that makes it harder for the federal government to keep track of companies’ labor violations when awarding contracts.

Under rules written during President Barack Obama’s administration, firms that bid on federal contracts would have to disclose their labor violations from the previous three years, including on laws pertaining to collective bargaining, safety and wages. They wouldn’t necessarily be barred from winning a contract, but they would have to come into compliance with the law.

The GOP-controlled House and Senate voted to overturn those rules, and Trump promised to “remove every job-killing regulation we can find” when he signed the bill.

But a less-noticed effect of this law is that it also undercuts Obama’s executive order protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer contractors from discrimination ― an order that, so far, Trump has promised to keep intact

On July 21, 2014, Obama signed an order barring federal contractors from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Race, color, religion, sex and national origin were already protected categories.

That same day, he signed the Fair Pay and Workplaces executive order, which required the disclosure of violations and compliance with labor laws ― including the newly expanded anti-discrimination measure. 

But congressional Republicans and Trump effectively killed the regulations that came from the Fair Pay and Workplaces executive order, making it harder for the federal government to ensure that contractors are complying with the law.

“The [LGBTQ] executive order still exists,” said Camilla Taylor, senior counsel with Lambda Legal. “It’s still the law that federal contractors are not permitted to discriminate. The problem is contracting officers are not going to be given disclosures about when they do. So the ability of federal contracting officials to deny contracts to bad actors has been gutted.”

“It’s clear the president does not value workers across the board, including but not limited to, LGBTQ workers,” added Sarah Warbelow, legal director at the Human Rights Campaign.

There are other ways the federal government could still discover labor violations from companies bidding on contracts. But under the measure signed by Trump, the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs ― which is part of the Department of Labor ― has less authority to enforce the rules.

David Stacy, HRC’s government affairs director, said he doesn’t think the Trump administration deliberately used the repeal of the Fair Pay and Workplaces rules to undercut the LGBTQ executive order. But it still showed the president is “willing to override protections regardless of its impact on LGBTQ people.”

Taylor, however, said it was “absolutely” an attempt to undermine Obama’s protections.

“How meaningful are your protections if companies aren’t required to disclose when they violate the law? The ability of the federal government to deny federal contracts on such a basis have been taken away,” she said. “Our protections are only as valuable as the enforcement tools are effective.”

LGBTQ advocates anticipate that Trump may also release a so-called “religious liberty” executive order at some point, which could allow people and organizations to discriminate against LGBTQ people if their “conscience” told them it was fine. In early February, a draft of such an order leaked, although it has not yet been issued. The White House has insisted that Trump is “respectful and supportive of LGBTQ rights.” 

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