Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) and Congressman Rob Andrews (D-NJ) announced today that they have introduced legislation to improve the enforcement of the Davis Bacon Act. The legislation would allow workers to monitor compliance with the Act by giving them access under the Freedom of Information Act to the payroll records that contractors file with the federal government. The legislation would also make more consistent the treatment of similar offenses under the law by increasing penalties under the Davis Bacon Related Acts to the same level as under the Davis Bacon Act.
"We should all be committed to the vigorous enforcement of the wage and hour laws," said Senator Clinton. "This legislation will improve the enforcement of the Davis Bacon Act by requiring the disclosure of information needed to monitor compliance with the Act, and imposing equitable penalties on companies that violate the Act. Working families deserve and depend on the fair and full enforcement of the labor laws, and this legislation would go a long way towards achieving that goal."
"Clear and consistent penalties are critical to the proper enforcement of Davis Bacon wage laws," said Representative Andrews. "In order to maintain oversight and full disclosure, it is essential to provide access to the necessary information to make sure companies are paying fair wages."
"Senator Clinton and Congressman Andrews are to be applauded for introducing this much-needed legislation to improve the enforcement of the federal Davis-Bacon Act," said Mark H. Ayers, President of the Building & Construction Trades Department, AFL-CIO. "For too long, unscrupulous contractors have managed to evade the payment of prevailing wages on federally-financed construction projects due, in large part, to lax enforcement. By providing workers with the ability to access payroll records through the Freedom of Information Act, and by increasing the penalties associated with Davis-Bacon violations, Senator Clinton's bill will help put an end to worker exploitation and wage rip-offs in the U.S. construction industry."
The Davis Bacon Act requires contractors for federal projects to pay their workers no less than the wage rates prevailing in the local area. The Bush administration has slashed the number of employees working on enforcing wage and hour laws like the Davis Bacon Act. One recent report by the Brennan Center for Justice found pervasive violations of the wage and hour laws in New York City. "Unscrupulous employers understand that there is a minimal risk of being caught for these violations," the report explained, "and even if they are caught, that they will likely pay no more than a portion of the wages they owe."
The legislation introduced by Senator Clinton and Congressman Andrews, the "Davis Bacon Enforcement Act," would improve the enforcement of the Davis Bacon Act in two ways. First, the bill would require the disclosure of all information contained in contractor payroll records except workers' social security numbers. Under current law, the public is allowed access to the contractor payroll records, but information that is needed to adequately monitor both contractor compliance and agency enforcement efforts is routinely deleted, often making the remaining information useless in efforts to determine whether contractors are complying with the Davis Bacon Act. The courts once held that this information could be disclosed to members of the public in order to monitor enforcement of the Act, but a Supreme Court decision narrowed the scope of FOIA in a way that led lower courts to deny disclosure of this information. This legislation would make clear that this information can once again be disclosed under FOIA.
Second, the bill would fix a discrepancy in the law that permits a contractor who is found to have violate the Davis Bacon Act to be debarred from being awarded federal contracts for three years, but a contractor who is found to have violated one of the Davis Bacon Related Acts, which are a number of later acts incorporating the Davis Bacon wage provisions, to be debarred for as little as six (6) months. This disparity in punishment for similar violations depending entirely on which federal project offending contractors happen to be working on makes no sense. This legislation would remedy this inconsistency and ensure that all violations of the Davis Bacon are treated in an even-handed manner.
Senator Clinton is a member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions and has been a leader in fighting for labor protections in the Senate. She has introduced and fought for a wide range of measures on issues relating to wage, hour and benefit protections. Earlier this week, Senator Clinton reintroduced legislation that she first introduced in 2006 to tie increases in the minimum wage to congressional pay increases. Earlier this month, a bill that she introduced with Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT) and a bipartisan coalition of Senators to expand the Family and Medical Leave Act for the family members of wounded soldiers passed the Congress as a part of the 2008 Department of Defense Authorization bill, and is awaiting the President's signature.
Congressman Andrews is Chairman of the Education and Labor Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions (HELP). Under the Subcommittee's jurisdiction, Rep. Andrews has responsibility for the health insurance, pension and labor laws of the nation. Congressman Andrews has been instrumental in passing legislation such as the Employee Free Choice Act to ensure employee have the choice to unionize; the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act to protect workers from having the premiums of their health plans adjusted based on genetic information; the Mental Health Parity Act, which expands health care coverage of mental health and substance-related disorders; and the Re-Empowerment of Skilled and Professional Employees and Construction Tradesworkers (RESPECT) Act, which restores the supervisor definition to what Congress originally intended for the National Labor Relations Act's NLRA's coverage of employees and exclusion of true supervisors.