Group wants to boost conditions at U.S. contractors

The public policy group that was instrumental in a successful campaign to win a higher minimum wage for federal contract workers is now aiming at a larger target — their employers.

Demos, in a report released Wednesday, said Uncle Sam could better use his $1.3 trillion in purchasing power by pushing government contractors to improve conditions for their employees.

Strike participants gather in the hundreds to protest minimum wage standards in the United States on Tuesday, May 21, 2013 at Union Station in Washington D.C. (Amanda Voisard/For The Washington Post)
Strike participants gather in the hundreds to protest minimum wage standards in the United States on Tuesday, May 21, 2013 at Union Station in Washington D.C. (Amanda Voisard/For The Washington Post)

The New York based organization is calling on President Obama to issue a “Good Jobs Executive Order” directing agencies “to incorporate higher workforce standards in awarding and evaluating federal contracts.”

Those standards would include:

– Respecting collective bargaining

– Offering living wages and decent benefits

– Demonstrating “exemplary” compliance with workplace protection laws

– Capping executive compensation at 50 times the media salary of the company’s staff.

Stan Soloway, president and CEO of the Professional Services Council that represents contracting companies, said the Demos plan requiring “companies that receive any federal dollars be paid a higher minimum wage is on very shaky legal ground and based on some extremely questionable data. But even more importantly, it is merely an attempt to circumvent the serious public and legislative debate issues of this importance merit.”

Even if that’s the case, Demos is worth paying attention to because it can claim results.

Last year, it issued a report that said federal tax dollars fund low-wage work and fuel inequality by contracting with companies that pay some employees less than $12 an hour.

With that report as ammunition, the Good Jobs Nation advocacy group organized workers, such as those at fast food restaurants in federal buildings, who raised awareness by protesting low wages and demanding White House action.

President Obama responded in February with an executive order to raise the minimum wage for federal contract workers to $10.10. Last week, the Labor Department issued proposed regulations to implement the order, which will cover new and replacement contracts after Jan. 1.

To read more, see the Federal Diary online this evening and in tomorrow’s print editions of  The Washington Post.

Joe Davidson writes the Federal Diary, a column about the federal workplace that celebrated its 80th birthday in November 2012.
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