Law may set hiring goals for disabled, veterans
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Hiring veterans and disabled workers might be good politics, but it's expensive policy, according to a construction contractors' trade group and other pro-business outfits.
The U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs is mulling a new equal-opportunity employment rule that would require all contractors -- construction companies as well as IT firms to airplane manufacturers -- doing business with the government "to set a hiring goal of having 7 percent of their employees be qualified workers with disabilities."
Another amendment to federal contracting policy would require government contractors and subcontractors to make a "fair and reasonable" effort to hire veterans and meticulously document efforts to recruit and hire former military personnel.
While the new rules would set "goals" -- not quotas -- by the federal government's own description, the Associated General Contractors of America says that meeting those goals would be hugely expensive, at least for construction companies, and far more expensive than the government's cost-of-compliance estimates issued to date.
"From our point of view, we see these both as quotas," said Brian Turmail, spokesman for the contractor's group in Arlington, Va. "If you don't meet the goal, you could be debarred from doing business with the federal government."
The contractors say the administration's proposal "to force federal contractors" to hire more disabled workers would cost construction firms $14,056 per year, or 30 times higher than the $473-per-contractor cost that the government is suggesting.
The analysis was specific to the construction industry, but the proposed policies would significantly remake the rules by which all federal contractors operate, an anathema to some 200,000 companies that "generate $700 billion a year in contracts with the federal government," according to The Wall Street Journal.
Among the many complaints being made by business groups: that the new regulations would be prohibitively expensive, that there may not be enough disabled workers in certain fields to satisfy the goals, and that federal law prohibits companies from asking whether a job applicant is disabled, "potentially forcing firms to violate one law in order to comply with another."
The regulations, some businesses say, cross the line from equal opportunity into affirmative action.
But such action is needed, according to the executive director of the National Disability Rights Network, because the protections now in place haven't been working.
Employers still have tunnel vision "about who people with disabilities are," said Curt Decker. The protests being offered by business groups are the "kinds of rationales we've had for years -- the cost of accommodation, the lack of available people. ... If we set a benchmark, people will start getting creative."
He also said that the federal government, as an enormous employer and contracting agent, bears the responsibility to set an example for the rest of the nation's businesses.
As for the veterans "quota," that's not a set-in-stone percentage, but a "hiring benchmark" that the contractor itself must come up with and try to meet. It would be based on a number of factors, including the prevalence of veterans living in the area where the company does business.
In both cases, the federal government says it wants to tighten standards to snuff out discrimination where it exists, but also to help both populations, which suffer from disproportionately high unemployment rates.
For those who are considered disabled and are in the labor force, the unemployment rate was close to 15 percent in 2010, while returning veterans faced an unemployment rate of about 12 percent through 2011, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The building group, which commissioned its own analysis of the cost of the new rules, says it has seen no data "that shows a widespread problem or a systemic problem" when it comes to contractors hiring from the veteran and disabled communities. And besides, the organization said, general contractors go out of their way to reach out to all groups, particularly veterans. Construction workers "are the guys who get goose-pimples at Lee Greenwood songs," just as veterans do, Mr. Turmail said.
Contractors are regularly in attendance at veterans job fairs, said Ron Kubitz, a recruiter for Braymon Construction in Saxonburg, a firm that does road and bridge construction and other civil engineering projects. He attended such a job fair earlier this month at Penn State's New Kensington campus, pitching his company to the 120 or so veterans who attended.
"That's one of the groups I obviously focus on," Mr. Kubitz said. It's not the hiring of veterans his industry opposes, he said, it's "the extra layers of oversight [that] are going to require a lot more paperwork, a lot more outreach, a lot more legwork."
The Department of Labor proposals on hiring disabled workers and veterans are available online at http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2011-12-09/html/2011-31371.htm and http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2011-04-26/pdf/2011-8693.pdf.
First Published June 30, 2012 12:01 am