The White House released an executive order on Tuesday that President Biden will sign the same day, requiring federal contractors to pay workers at least $15 an hour. Such workers currently earn a minimum of $10.95 an hour, and Tuesday’s order guarantees them a wage hike of around 37 percent, the Associated Press reported. Affected workers include custodial staff, “nursing assistants who care for veterans, cafeteria workers providing for the military and laborers who build and repair federal infrastructure,” the AP continued, and the new wage is indexed to inflation, so it will increase every year.
The order will raise wages for up to 390,000 workers, the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute estimated on Tuesday. Advocates for a higher minimum wage have long supported such a measure for federal workers. Though Biden can’t raise the federal minimum wage for all workers without Congress, raising the wage for federal contracts helps hundreds of thousands and bypasses a legislative body that is stifled by the filibuster.
The White House dismissed fears that a higher minimum wage could be bad for the economy. “This executive order will promote economy and efficiency in federal contracting, providing value for taxpayers by enhancing worker productivity and generating higher-quality work by boosting workers’ health, morale, and effort,” the White House said in a statement.
The Fight for $15 and a Union applauded Biden’s executive order. “Today’s executive order means that our taxpayer dollars won’t go toward poverty-wage jobs, but rather towards good jobs that pay workers enough to support our families after the devastation of the pandemic and revitalize the Black and brown communities where we live and work,” said activist Cristian Cardona. “Now, it’s time for the Senate to take action to pass a $15/hr minimum wage to lift up every worker, regardless of where we work, and boost the nation’s recovery out of the COVID-19 crisis. It’s time for companies like McDonald’s to take the simple step of raising our pay to $15/hr.”
While the Senate dithers about the filibuster, Biden’s latest executive order creates a kind of pilot program for a higher minimum wage nationwide. Assuming the sky doesn’t fall — and it won’t, given existing examples in states and municipalities that have already raised the minimum wage — it’ll be harder for opponents to argue that a $15 minimum wage represents a grave economic threat. Biden’s order is no replacement for a nationwide $15 per hour floor, but it does expand the boundaries of what the political class considers to be possible. That matters, even as the Fight for $15 and a Union goes on.
This post has been updated to include a statement from the Fight for $15 and a Union.