More Than The Minimum

Robert Borosage

The defining issue is this country remains how to make this economy work for working people. A sensible first step must be to put government on the side of good employers and their workers, rather than subsidizing exploitative employers.

Earlier this week, the Campaign for America’s Future joined the Good Jobs Nation coalition and the co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus to urge President Obama to issue executive orders that would leverage the $1 trillion in federal contracting to give preference to good employers and their workers.

The coalition released the “More Than The Minimum” proposal consisting of two powerful executive orders:

1. In all decisions to award contracts and other competitively selected government funds and benefits, preference should be given to model employers – that is, firms that offer a livable wage of at least $15 an hour and decent benefits, including health insurance and leave for sickness and care giving, and provide full-time hours as well as fair and stable work schedules.

2. Employers that do business with the government should be required to ensure that their workers can bargain collectively for decent treatment and working conditions without being forced to go on strike to make their voices heard.

The public is demanding action to lift wages so we can build a recovery that reaches the middle class. This is an agenda that will have an immediate impact, and cannot be stopped by the incoming Republican Congress.

News coverage of the proposal was significant, and may well serve to increase pressure on the president to act. Here is a sampling:

The Wall Street Journal:

A coalition of more than a dozen groups on Monday called on Mr. Obama to sign another executive order to raise the minimum wage for these workers to $15 an hour, saying he can lift millions out of poverty with the stroke of a pen and set an example for public officials in states and cities where minimum-wage workers are impoverished…

…the coalition called the federal government “America’s biggest creator of poverty jobs” and said Mr. Obama’s agenda is “unfinished.”

“He can and should take another bold step,” said Bob Borosage, co-director of the Campaign for America’s Future, a coalition member. “The government must lead the way to lift wages and benefits … if we are to build a broad middle class once more,” he said in a conference call.

The Huffington Post:

…Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said on Monday that unilateral action by the president on economic issues is more necessary than ever.

“The president is in a pivotal position to go assertively with executive orders to create a political balance and an economic balance,” Grijalva told reporters on a conference call. “I’m one member that urges them to use that as a balancing tool and a leadership tool in these next two years.”…

…[Progressive Caucus co-chair Rep. Keith] Ellison and Grijalva, along with Good Jobs Nation, already have a couple of executive-action victories under their belts. They successfully pressured the White House to institute two executive actions that were signed by the president earlier this year — one setting a minimum wage of $10.10 for federal contractors, and another that would effectively bar firms that have committed wage theft against their workers from receiving federal contracts.

Bloomberg:

Democrats and their union allies today took solace in voter approval of referendums in five states that will increase minimum wage levels.

“Americans clearly want action to make the economy work for them,” Robert Borosage, co-director of Campaign for America’s Future, said today at a news conference…

… The Good Jobs Nation coalition said the federal government pays more than $1 trillion a year to businesses through contracts, loans and grants.

Demos, a New York-based research group that supports progressive policies, says more than 20 million Americans are employed by companies that get a substantial amount of their revenue from federal contracts, such as food service or from work relating to health programs Medicaid and Medicare. In 2013, the group released a report saying that 2 million federal contract workers were paid less than $12 an hour.

The Washington Post:

Creating a rubric for federal contracts that would adjust bids upward for companies that pay higher wages and offer better benefits, such as health-care coverage and paid time off, might advantage a store like Market Basket — which also has a location at the Pentagon, and is beloved by its employees for paying a starting salary of $12 an hour, plus bonuses — over McDonald’s, for example.

The collective bargaining order that Good Jobs Nation is calling for could operate like Los Angeles Airports’ “labor peace” requirement for concessionaires to recognize labor unions, in exchange for workers not going on strike. That might mean that a contract would go to unionized UPS, rather than non-union FedEx. It could also look like Obama’s earlier executive order on “project labor agreements” for construction projects, which is intended to keep them on budget.

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