Obama to raise minimum wage for federal contract workers

Potentially hundreds of thousands of workers will see their incomes rise

Published January 28, 2014 2:47PM (EST)

                   (AP/Susan Walsh)
(AP/Susan Walsh)

In Tuesday's State of the Union address, President Obama will announce his intention to issue an executive order to raise the minimum wage for federal contractors to $10.10.

The move, which has been lobbied for by liberals since at least 2013, is expected to help workers under federal contracts "who are performing services or constructing buildings and are getting paid less than $10.10 an hour,” says the White House. Dishwashers, construction workers and people who serve food are expected to be among the beneficiaries.

Advocates for raising the federal contractor minimum wage argue it will help raise the wage floor for workers in general, and will send "a huge message to the private sector," as Mary Kay Henry, the president of SEIU, put it to the Huffington Post.

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Last week, a group of low-wage service workers took part in a walkout at the Pentagon. One of the workers, Jerome Hardy, told HuffPost that after eight years working at the seat of the Defense Department he was still earning just $9 per hour. "Not a penny raise -- a nickel, quarter, nothing," the 52-year-old said.

The left-leaning think tank Demos produced a report last year showing that many of the food and janitorial jobs under federal contracts don't provide a living wage or basic benefits like health care or sick leave. Much of the taxpayer money instead ends up subsidizing the high salaries of executives at companies with concessions contracts, according to the report, titled "Underwriting Bad Jobs."

During his State of the Union address, Obama also will call on Congress to enact legislation championed by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) to raise the overall federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour and peg it to inflation. That bill, which has broad Democratic support, would also increase the minimum wage for tipped workers, which hasn't budged in 20 years.

By Elias Isquith

Elias Isquith is a former Salon staff writer.

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