Wage hike for federal contract workers limited

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 29, 2014 at 10:21 am •  Published: January 29, 2014
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A recent survey by the National Employment Law Project found that 77 percent of government contract employees who work in food service, retail or janitorial service earn less than $10 per hour. About 4 in 10 of those workers depend on public assistance programs such as food stamps and Medicaid, the study by the worker advocacy group found.

Matthew Shay, president and CEO of the National Retail Federation, said raising the minimum wage would place a new burden on employers and hinder job creation.

"It's simple math — if the cost of hiring goes up, hiring goes down," Shay said.

Over at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, senior vice president Randy Johnson said the order appears to be very limited, but he's waiting to see the fine print. Johnson also questioned whether Obama has legal authority to issue an order that conflicts with current federal minimum wage legislation passed by Congress.

House Speaker John Boehner warned that Obama "must understand his power is limited by our constitution, and the authority he does have doesn't add up to much for those without opportunity in this economy."

The latest Associated Press-GfK poll found that 55 percent of Americans back an increase in the minimum wage, while 21 percent oppose it and 23 percent are neutral. Most, 52 percent, say an increase in the minimum wage would do more to help than hurt the economy, while 27 percent feel it would do more harm than good. One in 5 thinks it wouldn't have much impact on the economy.

Among Democrats, 77 percent favor an increase and 10 percent oppose it. Among Republicans, only 32 percent support an increase, 39 percent are opposed and 29 percent are neutral. The poll's margin of error was plus or minus 3.9 percentage points.

Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project, said Obama's order could have a ripple effect on private employers in some industries and may help other workers who already earn slightly more than $10.10 get a wage boost as well. That has happened in past years when Congress raised the minimum wage, she said.

"Any concrete step that moves in the direction of raising wages for any workers contributes positively to the debate," Owens said.

Unions representing federal workers applauded Obama's announcement but complained that the president should also be supporting legislation to increase wages for the government's own employees who earn less than $10.10 an hour.

"If the president is to have any credibility in talking about living wages, he needs to get his own house in order first and do everything in his power to establish $10.10 as the minimum wage for all federal hourly workers," said J. David Cox, president of the American Federation of Government Employees.

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Associated Press Director of Polling Jennifer Agiesta contributed to this report.

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Follow Sam Hananel on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SamHananelAP