WASHINGTON ― A provision to raise the minimum wage for Defense Department contractors to $15 per hour, up from $10.95, was adopted into the annual defense policy bill advanced by the House Armed Services Committee on Thursday.
The provision from Rep. Donald Norcross, D-N.J., comes as the Biden administration already plans to incorporate the wage into new contract solicitations starting Jan. 30, 2022, through executive action. The Norcross language included in HASC’s draft National Defense Authorization Act follows the same timeline.
The pay boost, kicked off by an order from President Joe Biden in April, would affect 390,000 low-wage federal contractors, according to an Economic Policy Institute estimate. The Labor Department has since proposed a rule codifying the increase.
The move will add up to $10.9 billion in spending across more than 11,000 Department of Defense contracts, and $1.5 billion across more than 7,600 Veterans Affairs contracts, according to an analysis by the Censeo Consulting Group. Overall, workers at the bottom of the pay scale ― in janitorial, landscaping, nursing and clerical jobs, and in southern and midwestern states ― are expected to see the most benefit.
The House Appropriations Committee endorsed the $15 minimum wage for defense contractors as part of the defense spending legislation it advanced in July. However, a floor vote for the spending bill hasn’t been set, while the defense policy is expected to get one this month.
“As the only union electrician in Congress and a lifelong labor leader, Norcross understands the importance of giving workers a voice and a fair wage for their work,” his office said in a statement. “That is why he successfully fought for including an amendment to raise the minimum wage for Department of Defense service contractors to $15 per hour – making sure that the men and women who support our national security are paid a living wage.”
Assuming full chamber passage later this month, the defense authorization bill will head to negotiations with the Senate. That work typically takes place during the congressional summer recess, but the administration’s late submission of its federal budget proposal pushed it back several months.
The authorization bill has managed to withstand partisan infighting and pass out of Congress annually for more than five decades. Extending that streak this year will require a legislative rush to craft a final bill sometime this fall, alongside other non-military budget and policy priorities.
Jessie Bur and Leo Shane III contributed to this report.
Joe Gould is the Congress reporter for Defense News.