Changes to Federal Affirmative Action Law Underway

by Mary C. Piemonte 

The US Department of Labor is asking members of the public to strengthen affirmative action rules for people with disabilities, including veterans.

Patricia Shiu, director of the Labor Department’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, talking to participants, including Residents' Journal, during a public discussion on affirmative action provisions under Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, at the 536 S. Clark Street Chicago Federal Building on Aug. 20. Photo by Mary C. Johns

Patricia Shiu, director of the Labor Department’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, recently came to Chicago for a public discussion on affirmative action provisions under Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

Shiu called the meeting at the 536 S. Clark Street Chicago Federal Building on Aug. 20 to make the affirmative action provisions “more effective and to help ensure that more people with disabilities are employed and are given the opportunity to advance in employment in the federal contracting labor force,” according to statement from the Labor Department.

Earlier in the summer, on July 23, Labor Department officials published an invitation for the public to provide input on how Shiu’s office can strengthen the affirmative action requirements of the regulations.

Nearly one in four American workers is employed by a company that receives federal money for contracted work and is therefore covered by the affirmative action requirements, according to Labor Department data.

Three laws form the basis for the requirements. The first was established by Executive Order 11246, one of the pieces of civil rights legislation signed by US President London B. Johnson 45 years ago. The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Vietnam Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act of 1974 were also important to building these regulations.

According to the Labor Department’s release, Shiu’s department is charged with assuring that the “door to opportunity is opened to every American regardless of race, color, religion, gender, national origin, veteran status, or disabilities, and responsible for enforcing the provisions of these laws and making sure that contactors and subcontractors don’t discriminate and live up to their obligations of equal opportunity in employment.”

The roundtable discussion attracted about 15 people, including activists from disability rights groups including Access Living. The attendees talked about barriers to employment for people with disabilities such as accessibility issues.

Some of the participants made suggestions how to retain people with disabilities in the workplace, the need for more awareness and coordination between the federal and state governments and contractors, and how the Labor Department can improve their collection of data and reviews to ensure the law is upheld.

Shiu said President George W. Bush’s administration didn’t really enforce the laws. But now, President Barack Obama’s administration is attempting to remedy that problem. All departments are being revamped and 200 people will be hired in the near future.

According to one of Shiu’s staff members, there has been an increase of employees in her office to tackle the problem with implementation and enforcement. About 77 new people have been hired so far, including those with backgrounds in law.

Shiu, who grew up in Chicago’s Hyde Park community, said that $25 million more was also added to the Department of Labor’s budget because Obama was “committed” to the cause. And she encouraged people to “keep the faith and hope” in Obama.

Shiu added that a lot of military veterans were suffering from “post traumatic stress,” which was a major concern of hers and the President.

Public comments on the can be issued online at the Federal eRulemaking Portal called Regulations.gov at: http://www.regulations.gov/search/Regs/home.html#home. You have to follow the instructions form submitting comments using the RIN number 1250-AA02.

You can also mail your public comments to: Barbara J. Bingham, acting director at the Division of Policy, Planning, and Program Development Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, Room N3422, 200 Constitution Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C.. 20210.

For futher information call OFCCP’s Help Desk non-toll free numbers at 202-693-1096 or 202-693-1337 (TTY).

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One Response to “Changes to Federal Affirmative Action Law Underway”

  1. Gabriel Says:

    I’m especially encouraged that they are focusing on, among other group, people in the military who have been affected by combat duty. In my opinion, these vets are often forgotten after making great sacrifices in defense of our nation.

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