Holding Contractors to a Higher Standard

Contractors - Rewriting the RulesWithin the US Department of Labor, Patricia A. Shiu directs the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP). Her team makes sure that contractors who do business with the federal government adhere to affirmative action and equal employment opportunities for both job seekers and wage earners.

Recently, OFCCP proposed new rules that will compel contractors and subcontractors to set a hiring goal of 7 percent for workers with disabilities. Shiu discussed the changes on the horizon with ABILITY’s Pamela K. Johnson and Stan Hoskins.

Pamela K. Johnson: I see that you worked as an attorney and a litigator. How would you sum up your background before you joined the OFCCP?

Patricia A. Shiu: My first law job was working as a law clerk for Arlene Mayerson, who as you know is one of the leading advocates for the disability community. As a civil-rights litigator advocating for the working poor and their families, I worked on disability discrimination cases, and class action cases—some against the San Francisco Unified School District.

At one point there was not even one totally accessible school in all of San Francisco. I also worked on classaction lawsuits against UC Davis and UC Berkeley on behalf of hearing impaired and visually impaired students. I have a commitment to this area of civil rights.

Stan Hoskins: How do you manage a staff of 800?

Shiu: I have an excellent team in the national office, and extremely talented regional directors and deputy directors throughout the country, including our compliance officers who are the heart and soul, I think, of the OFCCP in terms of their commitment to Labor Secretary Hilda Solis’s vision of good jobs for everyone.

Johnson: What direction do you give them regarding protection of workers, diversity and enforcing the law?

Shiu: We’ve hired and trained 200 new compliance officers, and we’re engaged in further training both at the intermediate and advanced stages. There are also interim trainings that we provide people on regulations and new development.

With respect to disability issues, I don’t know if you know this, but prior to this administration, there had really not been much attention paid to enforcing section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act, which is one of the laws that we enforce, because 25 percent of the American workforce works for federal contractors.

When you think federal contractors, you think big companies. It’s really important that we ensure that we are opening doors for everybody, including people with disabilities. And of course that means that places have to be accessible. So we’re working a lot to try and provide what I call the three-dimensional equal employment opportunity philosophy and affirmative action.

I find that every workplace tells a story. It may not be a story of discrimination, but it may be a story where there’s some mismanagement going on. I want to make sure that my compliance officers are steeped in the law, and understand how to investigate cases with a real eye towards accuracy, thoroughness and completeness, so they can serve the American people and ensure that there’s no discrimination going on.

Johnson: When and why did you hire the 200 compliance workers, and does that mean that your staff is actually closer to 1,000 now?

Shiu: It’s actually around 750. The 200 compliance workers were hired when President Obama was elected, because of his commitment to civil rights. Those 200 employees had been essentially laid off over a number of years, and they were backfilled.

Between the OFCCP, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Department of Justice, we are working together as one federal civil rights government on one civil rights agenda, which hasn’t been done for almost 50 years. We share resources; we cross train; we talk to each other—and I don’t mean at just the top levels; it goes on at our compliance officer level and investigator levels, as well.

Hoskins: Why is it necessary to update the federal contractor rules dealing with recruitment and hiring of people with disabilities? ...
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