In January, federal contract workers and congressional Democrats hailed President Obama’s decision, following seven strikes at federal buildings, to impose a $10.10 minimum wage floor for many workers under future government contracts. On Thursday, some of those workers will tell the president it isn’t good enough.
“I need to pay the rent, to help my son, to go to school,” says Marie Ferrier, a McDonald’s employee at the Pentagon and an activist with Good Jobs Nation, the federal contract workers’ campaign backed by the labor federation Change to Win and its largest union, the Service Employees International Union. “When I go to the doctor, I pay for that,” she says. “At work, they don’t give you 40 hours. … That’s why it’s not enough.” A White House spokesperson declined to comment.
Ferrier is one of several hundred nonunion workers employed by private companies under federal contracts who signed a letter to Obama to be released Thursday. Calling strikes and protests “the only way we can make our voices heard” while government agencies “that depend on our labor stand by when the private businesses they contract with exploit and mistreat us,” the letter urges Obama to “direct the federal agencies that contract with our employers—the Department of Defense, the Department of Transportation, the Smithsonian Institution, and the General Services Administration—to require their contractors to bargain with us over fair wages and working conditions in return for our commitment not to strike.”
Although Obama’s January executive order will already raise the minimum wage that many contractors pay workers, Good Jobs Nation says some contractors have failed to pay legally required wages and retaliated against employees who’ve gone on strike. “Workers need a voice at the table,” says Change to Win Deputy Director Joseph Geevarghese.
President Obama has long had a fractious relationship with the labor movement, at times disagreeing with union leaders on issues including trade, education, and labor law reform. Praising the “ripple effect” of Obama’s $10.10 wage order on local governments and private companies, Geevarghese says the president should follow the example of Franklin Roosevelt, who wielded executive authority during World War II to force contractors to the bargaining table and avert strikes. “Roosevelt said, ‘If you want to do business with the United States government, you should have good labor relations,’” Geevarghese says. “And we’re calling for the same principle to be reestablished.”