Union leaders hail Obama order raising minimum wage for contract workers

WASHINGTON — Union leaders hailed President Barack Obama’s signing yesterday of an executive order raising minimum wages for future federal contract workers – janitors, fast-food workers and others – to $10.10 an hour.

They urged other politicians, notably lawmakers in Congress, to follow his lead and raise the national minimum wage.

Service Employees President Mary Kay Henry praised Obama for helping workers who now earn “poverty wages that can’t support their families.” Then she urged lawmakers to raise the national minimum wage, now $7.25. “But when American jobs and livelihoods depend on getting something done, the president shouldn’t have to wait for Congress” to act, Henry added.

Other union leaders agreed, then noted local politicians are ahead of the feds. In his state of the city address, new New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio proposed raising the living wage for similar workers employed by city contractors to $15, a move Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Workers President Stuart Appelbaum hailed.

De Blasio’s proposal also mandates that retailers who receive such city contracts cannot oppose organizing drives. “At a time of rising poverty and inequality throughout our city, we should use every available policy and legislative tool to strengthen the lives of working people,” Appelbaum responded.

And Gov. Martin O’Malley, D-Md., personally testified before state legislative committees on Feb. 11, advocating a statewide minimum wage hike, to $10.10, there, a move Maryland union leaders strongly endorse.

Some 2.2 million workers now toil for the minimum wage, or slightly more, under the federal contracts. Obama’s order takes effect Jan. 1 and would aid several hundred thousand of them after that as contracts roll over, Labor Secretary Thomas Perez said.

Obama said the workers, like other most other minimum wage workers, “are not teenagers taking their first job. They’re adults. The average age is 35. A majority of lower-wage jobs are held by women. Many have children that they’re supporting.

“Right now, there’s a dishwasher at Randolph Air Force Base in Texas making $7.76 an hour. There’s a fast-food worker at Andrews (Air Force Base), right down the street, making $8.91 an hour. There’s a laundry worker at Camp Dodge in Iowa making $9.03 an hour. Once I sign this order, starting next year…each of them and many of their fellow coworkers are going to get a raise. And by the way, that includes folks who get paid in tips-they’ll get a raise, too. These are Americans who work full-time, often to support a family, and if the minimum wage had kept pace with our economic productivity, they’d already be getting paid well over $10 an hour.”

Photo: Surrounded by workers, President Obama signs an executive order to raise the minimum wage for federal contract workers during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Feb. 12. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)



Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.