On my first day as secretary of labor, I made it clear that protecting and promoting opportunity for America’s workers is my top priority. Today, Vice President Biden announced two new actions that will do exactly that – strengthening civil rights laws to create more economic opportunity for veterans and people with disabilities.
For four decades, the Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act and Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act have prohibited employment discrimination on the basis of veteran status or disability. These laws have required federal contractors and subcontractors to affirmatively recruit, hire, train and promote qualified individuals.
But unfortunately, the laws haven’t always worked as intended. People with disabilities, who have an enormous contribution to make to our economy, and veterans, who have risked life and limb on our behalf, are still disproportionately represented among the unemployed and those out of the workforce entirely.
So the steps we are announcing will ensure that qualified workers have more meaningful opportunities to find, secure and keep good jobs. We are providing specific metrics to help contractors measure their progress toward achieving equal opportunity for people with disabilities and protected veterans. We are clarifying expectations, making legal requirements more effective and facilitating compliance with the law.
I believe promoting and protecting opportunity is only possible through collaboration, consensus-building and pragmatic problem-solving. And that has been exactly the protocol here − the department developed these rules through a multiyear process of stakeholder engagement and consultation.
Since 2010, the department’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs has met with advocates, policymakers, employer groups, workers and job seekers. We listened to their stories about the challenges facing veterans and people with disabilities in the workforce, and we saw the limitations of the legal requirements designed to assist these populations. We also listened to contractors, and we made appropriate changes to address their concerns about how best to implement these necessary improvements.
We know that these regulations represent a change for contractors and we are ready to facilitate their success. OFCCP staff will be on hand to provide compliance assistance.
Being a federal contractor is a privilege − one that comes with the reasonable responsibility to abide by the law and provide equal employment opportunity to all workers. Today’s new rules make those expectations clearer and more meaningful. We will continue to work with all stakeholders as they implement these changes, promoting opportunity and access for millions of workers across thousands of workplaces.
These new rules are a win-win. They will benefit veterans and people with disabilities, who belong in the economic mainstream of the nation but have faced unfair barriers in the job market. They will benefit employers who do business with the federal government, increasing their access to a large, diverse pool of qualified workers. And they will benefit the entire nation, as these rules help us fulfill the American promise of equal opportunity for all.