Amicus Brief Filed in Support of $15 Minimum Wage for Federal Contract Workers; Legal Challenges Seek to Cut Workers’ Wages

On January 30th, the Department of Labor’s final rule raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour for all federally-contracted workers took effect. Companies that don’t want to pay their workers  $15 an hour have challenged the rule in court. Yesterday, a coalition of organizations and labor unions, including the National Employment Law Project (NELP), Communications Workers of America (CWA), Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), and the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), represented by Democracy Forward, filed an amicus brief in the first of the challenges, urging the court to deny a request to block workers from receiving this wage. The brief highlights the organizations’ support of increased minimum wage requirements for employees of those who choose to contract with the federal government. 

Workers employed by federal contractors provide essential services to our government and facilitate use of federal natural resources, but without the benefits of being a government employee. From janitors to call center workers, security guards to guides on federal lands, these essential workers — who, in many industries, are disproportionately women and/or people of color — keep our government running, often on poverty wages. President Biden issued an Executive Order to raise minimum wages for these workers to $15 an hour in April 2021, acknowledging that decent compensation leads to less turnover, higher morale, better productivity, and better quality services for public dollars.

In December 2021, Colorado outfitters challenged the rule in the federal district court in Colorado in Bradford v. U.S. Department of Labor, seeking to block the increase in wage for all federal contract workers. The district court refused to block the rule, and the plaintiffs have appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. Yesterday’s filing demonstrates that the President has a broad authority to make procurement policy that improves the economy and efficiency of government contracting, and notes that numerous economic studies show the relationship between a decent wage floor and improved services due to diminished turnover; keeping experienced workers on the job; higher morale and productivity; and fewer workplace grievances and disciplinary actions.

Additional challenges to the $15 federal contractor minimum wage have been filed by the Attorneys General of eight states, seeking to deny their own citizens a wage increase. Many of these states still do not require employers to pay minimum wages above the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour. Attorneys General in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Arizona, Idaho, Indiana, Nebraska, and South Carolina seek to cut workers wages and overturn decades of precedent and practice by alleging that this Administration does not have the authority to make federal procurement policy.  

A copy of the brief is available here

The following workers and leaders are available to speak to press about the importance of increased minimum wage requirements for employees of those who choose to contract with the federal government: 

  • Ryan Anderson, a Ski Patroller at Breckenridge Ski Resort in Colorado and member of CWA Local 7781, states: “Ski Patrollers and other support staff in the outdoor recreation industry, whether we work on or off federal lands, have had to struggle to get by on low wages for far too long. We love our jobs, but our families can’t survive on less than $15/hour. That’s why we support President Biden’s $15 Minimum Wage Executive Order for outdoor recreation businesses operating on federal lands.”
  • Anastasia Christman, Senior Policy Analyst at the National Employment Law Project, states, “Workers who ensure we experience the full grandeur of our national lands, many of whom work for large national corporations, deserve to make a decent wage just like any other contracted worker. President Biden’s executive order setting a fair wage floor for all federally contracted workers will improve guided outdoor experiences for everyone while helping workers care for themselves and their families.” 
  • Heidi Shierholz, EPI President says: “Raising the federal contracting minimum wage to $15 per hour will have broadly shared benefits for workers and the economy. The new minimum wage will raise pay for up to 390,000 federal contractors, about half of whom are Black or Hispanic. The higher minimum wage will also reduce worker turnover, increase productivity, and help raise wages throughout the rest of the labor market.”
  • Julie Vogtman, Director of Job Quality & Senior Counsel for the National Women’s Law Center, says: “Decades of research show that higher minimum wages have far-ranging benefits—and decades of precedent affirm that President Biden has the authority to raise pay standards for workers on federal contracts. Women and people of color will see the greatest gains from a $15 minimum wage, helping to rectify the racial and gender wage gaps that are pervasive in federal contractor workforces as they are in our broader economy.”
  • Skye Perryman, President and CEO of Democracy Forward states, “As our brief makes clear, the case for increasing the federal contractor minimum wage is not only legally sound, it is good for government services and the economy–from increased employee morale and productivity to reduced turnover, absenteeism, and income inequality. We are honored to represent a broad coalition of organizations and workers in urging the court to uphold increased minimum wage requirements for employees of those who choose to contract with the federal government.”

Press Contact

Emily Singer
Democracy Forward
(973) 865-0063