On President Biden’s Executive Order Establishing a $15 Minimum Wage for Federal Contract Workers

Washington, DC—Following is a statement from Rebecca Dixon, executive director of the National Employment Law Project:

“The National Employment Law Project applauds the Biden-Harris administration’s executive order raising the minimum wage for federally contracted workers to $15 an hour. This is an important first step to ensuring that all jobs paid with federal revenues are good jobs that come with dignity and respect for the workers who do them. And by phasing out the tipped minimum wage and ending unjust Trump-era exclusions for workers on public lands, the administration is putting 390,000 workers onto a path to greater economic security and well-being.

“Because federally contracted work so often takes place in long racially segregated industries in states where corporate lobbyists and their lawmaker allies have unjustly suppressed wages, this action will also help begin to close the racial wealth gap.

“But for these jobs to truly become good jobs that reflect the importance of public services and programs, more must be done to reform federal outsourcing policies. Nearly 100 years ago, lawmakers began setting labor standards and protections for federally contracted jobs in response to extreme wage inequality and Jim Crow–era employment discrimination. Virtually every president since the New Deal has taken action along with Congressional lawmakers to make the government a better market actor, and to end discrimination based on race, gender, disability, and LGBTQ+ status.

It is crucial that the Biden-Harris administration follow up this EO with actions to support contracted workers’ voice on the job.

“This progress has often been too slow and too uneven, however, leaving millions of workers and their families struggling to cover the rent, pay their bills, and put food on the table. And without adequate enforcement, too often the promised pay never reaches workers’ pockets. As recently as last winter, the government itself found that over the course of just five years, workers on federal contracts suffered over $220 million in stolen wages. Most of the violations were in occupations such as facilities maintenance, janitorial and security services, office administration, and trash disposal. These are occupations that employ significant numbers of women as well as Black, Latinx, Asian, and Indigenous workers.

“We are encouraged that this executive order comes one day after President Biden and Vice President Harris announced the formation of a White House task force on worker power and organizing with the goal of making the federal government a model employer with respect to worker organizing and collective bargaining. Laws governing federally funded construction and service contracting recognize the key role of worker organizing in setting fair pay above the minimum wage floor, though this promise to respect workplace democracy is not always fully kept. Union membership brings greater well-being and financial security for all workers, but crucially it narrows the racial wage gap, improves job stability, and helps families of color build wealth.

“Therefore, it is crucial that the Biden-Harris administration follow up on this minimum wage executive order with actions to support contracted workers’ voice on the job, including measures to battle unjust termination and encourage whistleblowing; to give workers and their advocates a greater role in identifying labor standards violations and the enforcement of workplace protections; to protect the gains workers have made by organizing when a contract changes hands; and to take job quality into consideration in the contracting process so that companies with integrity and fair employment practices can fairly compete for federal contracts.”

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