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Obama signs order requiring contractors to disclose labor violations

By Amanda Becker

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama on Thursday signed an executive order that requires contractors bidding for government work to disclose past labor law violations and gives screening assistance to federal agencies awarding contracts.

The Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Executive Order will apply to companies pursuing federal contracts worth more than $500,000. Roughly 24,000 businesses that employ about 28 million workers have federal contracts, according to data provided by the administration.

"It is good for workers ... and good for the middle class," Obama said before signing the order.

Labor unions, workers-rights groups and Democratic lawmakers praised Obama's decision.

Service Employees International Union President Mary Kay Henry said in a statement: "It will protect responsible contractors in the marketplace from unfair competition by unethical employers who profit from their violations of the labor and employment laws."

The National Association of Manufacturers, an industry group, said the order would require businesses and federal procurement officers to navigate a complex web of labor laws that even the U.S. Department of Labor has difficulty deciphering.

"At some point, businesses with federal contracts, or those thinking about bidding for them, may decide the additional hoops, hurdles and hassles just aren’t worth it anymore – particularly if they are a small to medium-sized business,” NAM Vice President of Human Resources Policy Joe Trauger said in a statement.

ONE OF A NUMBER OF ACTIONS

Thursday's order is the latest executive action by Obama intended to help workers. In July, he signed an order barring federal contractors from discriminating against workers based on sexual orientation and gender.

In April, he signed an order prohibiting federal contractors from retaliating against workers for sharing salary information.

In February, Obama announced that starting in 2015 the minimum hourly wage for employees of federal contractors would be $10.10, and tipped workers would earn at least $4.90 per hour. Last raised in 2009, the federal minimum hourly wage is $7.25. Tipped workers earn a legally mandated wage of at least $2.13 per hour.

"For much of the past year, the president has been focused on ways that he can use his executive authority ... to try and improve the economic circumstances of middle class families across the country," an administration official said in a Thursday background briefing.

Obama said on Thursday he has used his executive authority to protect employees of federal contractors because the U.S. Congress had not produced legislation that benefits working Americans.

The executive order signed by the president on Thursday came a day after the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives voted to sue Obama over his use of executive authority.

"You could say it is a harmless political stunt, but it is wasting everyone's time," Obama said. "We've got too much work to do."

Obama said the administration would work with businesses to implement the order and that the emphasis would be on compliance, not punishment.

(Reporting by Amanda Becker; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Steve Orlofsky)

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