Dear President Biden:
Our organizations advocate for wide-ranging progressive reforms to build an economy that works for everyone; moves toward a clean, sustainable future; dramatically expands access to quality health and childcare; and ends systemic bias that harms Black, Latinx, Asian, and Indigenous people, women, LGBTQ+ people, and people with disabilities. To achieve these shared goals while ensuring that the economic recovery benefits people from all walks of life, we urge you to use your executive authority to raise standards for the millions of workers employed by government contractors and hold the private sector corporations that receive government support accountable to these policies.
We recognize all you have done to improve conditions for contract workers. In your first weeks in office, you spoke out for those who keep our country running whether their paycheck comes from the federal government or from a federal contractor. You raised the minimum wage for federal contract workers to $15 and took steps to provide emergency paid leave for all these workers; you strengthened Buy American provisions to invest in well-paid, union jobs; you have committed to a whole-of-government approach to combatting the climate crisis that links community resilience and opportunity for good jobs; and you ended a ban on anti-bias and anti-discrimination trainings by contractors. As you know, the challenges we face require additional action.
From aircraft maintenance to healthcare, building services to customer service, and food service to construction, every federal agency depends on workers employed in the private sector to deliver essential programs and services to the American people. Researchers estimated that nearly half of the people performing federal work in 2020 were employed by government contractors. As the government undertakes the essential work of building back our economy, even more private-sector workers may move onto the public sector payroll; ensuring that these essential public programs operate in the best interests of the nation depends on the cooperation and participation of private corporations.
Starting a century ago, elected officials enacted rules to ensure that contract workers received decent wages, had safe workplaces free from discrimination, and were able to organize into unions. These rules have helped raise pay and improve workplace conditions for millions of workers, but they are not perfect: too many workers are left unprotected, loopholes allow unscrupulous companies to win federal work, and decades of disinvestment in federal enforcement hollowed out many of these promises.
Because contracting so frequently takes place in industries that employ significant numbers of Black, Latinx, and women workers, outdated and poorly-enforced rules have harmed these workers and their communities, exacerbated generational patterns of inequality, and widened the wealth gap. Also, despite interventions to require that all contract workers earn at least the contract minimum wage, corporations still segregate workers with disabilities and pay them less than the prevailing wage.
We, the undersigned, urge you to use your executive authority to create a more equitable, just, and democratic system of federal contracting by quickly adopting federal contracting and purchasing reforms to:
Pay contract workers who produce goods and services under federal contracts decent wages and provide needed benefits.
Require equal pay for workers with disabilities and better protect all workers from discrimination, no matter their race, national origin, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, or status as a protected veteran.
Prohibit discipline or discharge of contract workers without just cause.
End practices that allow unscrupulous contractors to submit low-price bids that rest on low wages, labor violations, safety violations, and/or the misclassification of workers.
Protect workers’ jobs when contracts change hands, so that incumbent knowledgeable workers aren’t cast aside for lower-paid inexperienced or temporary workers.
Strengthen the power of the government and workers to enforce workplace rights and ensure contract workers have the ability to challenge illegal practices without fear of retaliation, including by banning forced arbitration or class waiver agreements.
Create a White House office or initiative to ensure that federal purchasing is harnessed for the common good and supports a strong, equitable and environmentally sustainable post-COVID recovery.
Establish a Buy Clean program for public procurement as a means to reduce domestic and global climate pollution, improve sustainable resource-use, reduce the health impacts of industrial pollution, and retain and create family-sustaining domestic manufacturing jobs, including in marginalized communities.
When voters at the ballot box call for clean energy, safe infrastructure, affordable healthcare, an equitable economy, an end to systemic bias, and a fair economy, the federal government must share those mandates with companies employed to do its work. It is time to reimagine federal contracting so that it supports shared prosperity and guarantees responsible use of public contracting dollars. We thank you for your ongoing work to raise standards for contract workers and offer our partnership as you continue to reform contracting to prioritize working conditions, basic labor standards, and enforcement of the law and thereby hold contractors responsible to workers, communities, and the American people.