Federal contract workers performing essential services for government agencies during the pandemic will see a marked increase in their quality of life and financial stability under President Joe Biden’s order to increase the minimum wage for such workers, according to a roundtable hosted by the Department of Labor April 27.
“These workers and all workers deserve to earn a living wage, so we’re going to be proud to implement and enforce this action at the Department of Labor when it goes into effect early next year,” said Labor Secretary Marty Walsh.
Tila Garcia-Ramsey, a contract janitor who works in the Kansas City IRS building, said through a translator that the pandemic has made her work even harder, as safety measures require custodial staff to perform more cleaning rounds and do so more thoroughly than before.
She added that under her current pay, she never has enough money to fill the refrigerator with food in her house.
Many of the custodial, security and food service staff at federal buildings are contract workers that could be impacted by the minimum wage increase.
These employees often experience some of the same workplace challenges as federal employees, such as losing work during a government shutdown, but without many of the protections and safeguards their federal counterparts usually recieve.
In addition, workers like Sylvia Walker, one of over 10,000 contract employees staffing the call centers for the Affordable Care Act and Medicare under the company Maximus, will have their wages increase over $4 an hour under the new minimum.
“This means so much to me and my coworkers, thousands of Maximus employees staffing the 1-800 Medicare and Affordable Care Act lines, who help Americans get access to affordable healthcare every day. We have been vocal for years about our low pay at Maximus,” said Walker.
“Me and my coworkers have trouble making ends meet. Every day is a struggle. We have been working hard the entire pandemic, but many of us have just been scraping by. Many of us have trouble affording healthcare services, because we have a $4,500 deductible under Maximus’ insurance plan.”
The company itself also applauded the decision by the Biden administration: “Maximus has been actively working to raise the SCA rates for our employees since acquiring Medicare Contact Center Operations in late 2018. Maximus applauds President Biden’s executive order to raise the minimum wage paid by federal contractors.”
Biden has already instructed agencies to begin working on raising the federal employee minimum wage to $15 an hour, and the order for contract workers represents another major step in bringing all employees that support the federal government up to the minimum wage called for by many Democrats across the country.
“The minimum wage will help not just federal contract workers. It will help our communities, it will boost our local economies and bring badly-needed money,” said Walker.
Jessie Bur covered the federal workforce and the changes most likely to impact government employees for Federal Times.