Federal Contract Workers Deserve a Union

The Rev. Michael Livingston |

Over the past year, I have marched with federal contract workers who clean and serve food at iconic federal buildings like the Smithsonian Museums, the Pentagon, Union Station and the Reagan building as they have gone on strike seven times to demand living wages and the right to form a union. In response, the President announced at the State of the Union that he is raising the pay of low-wage federal contract workers to $10.10 an hour by executive order.

Our President has taken a step towards greater economic justice, but $10.10 is the minimum he could do to help the invisible army of two million low-wage federal contractors across the nation employed by private businesses that serve the American public. Even with the $10.10 minimum wage executive order, these workers remain in poverty because they don’t receive living wages, health care benefits or even paid-time off.  

Yesterday, hundreds of Good Jobs Nation leaders representing more than 50 companies that do business with the U.S. Government are submitting a letter to the President and the Secretary of Labor to allow them to collectively bargain to win better wages and benefits. They are calling on the President to use his executive powers to give them a voice at work so they don’t need to keep striking to win good jobs and a path into the middle class.

With the Stroke of a Pen

President Franklin Roosevelt used his executive powers to promote collective bargaining to end widespread strikes. By the stroke of a pen, FDR gave 10 million Americans the right to join unions and by doing so, he built the biggest middle class in the history of the world. In contrast, President Obama’s $10.10 executive order only helps 200,000 workers and it ultimately doesn’t give them a pathway into the middle class. If the President really believes that reducing income inequality is the “defining challenge our time” he must follow the example of FDR and use his executive powers to give federal contract workers a voice on the job so they don’t have resort to strikes to win a better life.

Companies do well when their workers do well. The President often points to Costco as an example of a profitable company that pays their employees good wages and benefits; Costco workers have a union. The President can not only hold up Costco as an example, he can give workers a voice like Costco does.

In the last month, thousands of workers at fast food chains and Walmart stores have walked off their jobs to demand the right to form a union. While the President can’t help those workers by executive order, he can lead by example and give low-wage fast food and retail workers on federal property the right to unionize. 

Ultimately, Presidential action to help workers form unions will create good jobs that will lift the economy by putting more money into the pockets of working people, as well as send a broader message to profitable corporations like McDonald’s and Walmart that paying poverty wages and forcing workers to go on strike to fight poverty wages is not part of the American Dream. Join the workers and sign the Good Jobs Nation petition today!