As part of the president's pledge to act with or without the cooperation of Congress, the White House and Labor Department on Thursday released the details of a new rule guaranteeing workers under federal contracts a minimum wage of $10.10 per hour.
The proposal is expected to raise the wages of hundreds of thousands of low-wage workers employed in government buildings and on federal lands throughout the country. Though still subject to a public comment period, officials said Thursday that the rule will apply to new and renewed federal contracts starting in January 2015.
"The federal government should practice what it preaches on the minimum wage," Labor Secretary Tom Perez said on a call with reporters. "No person who works a full-time job should have to live in poverty."
The president first announced he'd raise the minimum wage for contract workers during his State of the Union address earlier this year. The contract rule was part of a batch of executive orders he's issued related to the economy in recent months, vowing to act within his own powers as congressional Republicans stand in the way of the Democratic agenda.
That agenda includes an increase in the federal minimum wage, which is currently $7.25 and hasn't been raised since 2009. Obama and Democrats in the House and Senate have proposed raising it to $10.10 per hour and tying it to an inflation index. House Republicans, however, have showed no signs of giving the proposal a vote, while Democrats in the Senate still appear short of a filibuster-proof majority on their bill.
Cecilia Munoz, director of the White House's domestic policy council, said the executive order would raise wages on military bases, national park lands and in veterans nursing homes, among other places. The minimum wage will apply to workers throughout the subcontracting chain, whether or not their direct employers hold the federal contract.
"When you hear the president talking about using his pen and his phone to make a difference for middle-class Americans and for those who are working to get into the middle class, this is exactly what he means," Munoz said.
The executive order likely never would have happened without the steady agitation of labor groups, particularly Good Jobs Nation, which is backed by the Change to Win union federation.
The group had held a series of protests and walkouts by low-wage food workers employed at federal sites like the Smithsonian and the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington, D.C. With the support of members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, they called upon the president to issue the minimum wage order.
On Thursday, it was clear that the group wasn't ready to rest with the victory. It sent a letter to the White House and the Labor Department essentially saying that $10.10 was not high enough. The group asked that the administration force contractors to sit down and bargain with workers over fair wages. Perez had no comment on the letter Thursday.