The National Employment Law Project (NELP) applauds President Biden’s actions during his first days in office to ensure that public revenues spent on government contracts will support crucial anti-bias and anti-discrimination trainings and will better allow workers to make ends meet, along with several other measures benefitting working and unemployed people. The new administration’s swift actions are desperately necessary, and are evidence of the immense power of movements led by Black and brown people throughout the country to win higher wages and justice and dignity on the job.
By repealing the Trump-era prohibition on robust and effective racial bias and anti-discrimination trainings by federal contractors, President Biden sent a clear message on January 20th that federal dollars should not support occupational segregation or discriminatory behavior anywhere public programs are performed. Anti-bias trainings are a critical tool for creating a safe and fair workplace before discriminatory behavior can take place and before workers experience harms or incur costs to recover lost wages.
“The best way to guarantee that workers receive the wages they have earned is to end discrimination in pay and promotion before it starts,” said NELP Executive Director Rebecca Dixon. “Ensuring that President Biden is committed in an ongoing way to rooting out discriminatory practices in federal work—whether done within federal agencies or by contracted companies—is critical to moving the US economy toward a more just future.”
President Biden’s January 22 executive orders also begin the process to raise the minimum wage for federally contracted workers to $15 an hour. This is a crucial first step to reaffirming promises that jobs performing public services will be good jobs—and a testament to the power of the Fight for $15 and a union movement. Nearly 200,000 contracted workers benefitted from the last contractor minimum wage hike under President Obama, and hundreds of thousands will similarly see larger paychecks as a result of President Biden’s action today.
Delilah Evans, a worker in Mississippi employed by Maximus to provide customer service for the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said of a $15 an hour wage, “That would allow me to go to the grocery store and make healthier choices and not say ‘am I going to pay all on this bill or just part of this bill?’…I need lights, gas water; I have to pay my mortgage. I have to pay all of those. At $15 an hour I could make it.”
Dixon noted, “Some of the most frequently contracted-out jobs by federal agencies are in industries that employ significant numbers of Black, brown, immigrant, and women workers. The past year has reminded us that custodial, cafeteria, waste management, construction, customer service, and security work are all essential jobs that are too often also severely underpaid and high-risk jobs. When workers providing important public services are paid decently, everyone benefits
Ty Wheeler, who is employed by Delaware North to guide winter visitors through Yellowstone National Park, said “Because wages are so low good people leave jobs at Yellowstone year after year, and the quality of the services are suffering because of it…”
In addition to these measures, President Biden’s executive order also makes clear that no worker has to return to a workplace that is unsafe or unhealthy for fear of losing their unemployment benefits. Through this order, President Biden did what the Trump Labor Department repeatedly refused to do and made sure that no worker is forced to make this untenable choice in order to receive unemployment payments to which they are legally entitled.
NELP further applauds President Biden’s revocation of Trump-era Executive Orders that attempted to undercut direct federal employees’ union rights. Unions have a demonstrable effect on improving access to quality jobs for Black and women workers, and the ability to bargain for wages and benefits is a critical tool for workers to close the racial wealth gap.
We look forward to continuing to push the Biden administration to heed workers’ demands for critical protections and a just recovery from COVID-19 in the coming months and years.