Sara Lonardo,

Issued January 22, 2021

700,000 federal government contract workers on path to $15 through Biden executive action

Larger number of underpaid workers than at McDonald’s and Walmart combined

Washington, D.C. - In a ground-breaking executive action President Joseph R. Biden will sign this afternoon, more than 700,000 federal government contract workers, mostly women and people of color, are on a path to winning a significant raise to a guaranteed minimum wage of at least $15 an hour.

“With today’s executive action, President Biden is leading by example and heeding the demands working people have been making that leaders must respect, protect and pay them,” said Service Employees International Union International President Mary Kay Henry. “Too often the Black and brown workers, especially women, who keep our government running behind the scenes have been ignored and their work devalued. These courageous workers have been speaking up and making their voices heard. It’s a breath of fresh air to have a president who stands shoulder-to-shoulder with them and we look forward to seeing what else comes from the Biden administration.”

President Biden’s executive action is the latest in a long series of victories by the country’s Fight for $15 and a Union movement, which began in 2012. The measure comes on the heels of a hard-fought presidential election in which essential workers of all kinds braved the pandemic, economic crisis and deliberate barriers to voting and demanded elected officials “Respect Us. Protect Us. Pay Us.” By turning out in record numbers to vote and volunteer on campaigns, they elected new leaders to deliver relief, distribute vaccines and create a better future for all.

The Biden action builds further momentum toward Congress passing the Raise the Wage Act so every worker in America is paid at least $15 an hour. Working people will continue to speak out, demanding $15 and a union no matter where they work, so they can continue making gains.

The federal government awards billions of dollars in contracts for goods and services each year to private-sector businesses employing more than two million people - 700,000 of whom are paid less than $15 an hour. These contracts are in sectors where women and people of color predominate. They are janitors, clerical, warehouse, food, security and call center workers, as well as workers with disabilities on contracts under the AbilityOne program.

"I came to the United States so I can better support my daughter,” said Tila Garcia-Ramsey, a federally contracted janitor and SEIU Local 1 union member in Kansas City, Missouri. “As a janitor, the work we do is essential. But I was really struggling to get by on what we were paid. But now that we are soon going to be paid $15 an hour, I feel a huge wave of relief. This changes everything.”

President Biden’s action will lead to an increase in wages for contract workers from the current minimum of $10.95 to $15, a 37 percent increase. It is an important step toward a society where workers' health is protected, the freedom to form a union is respected, and people are paid enough to provide for their families. It is one of a series of Biden administration actions this week - including the firing of the anti-worker, Trump-appointed general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board, Peter Robb, and the launching of a robust COVID-19 response plan - that will improve people's lives. 

In 2014, President Obama’s Executive Order 13658 established a minimum wage for federal contract workers set at $10.10. The order provided significant momentum to the Fight for $15 and a Union movement at the time.