April 30, 2021
In a pair of executive orders, President Biden created an unprecedented task force at the highest level of government charged with increasing union membership and raised the minimum wage for federal contractors to $15 an hour.
Executive Order 14025 establishes the “White House Task Force on Worker Organizing and Empowerment,” “dedicated to mobilizing the federal government’s policies, programs, and practices to empower workers to organize and successfully bargain with their employers.” The task force will be chaired by Vice President Kamala Harris and vice chaired by Labor Secretary Marty Walsh. The rest of the task force will be made up of the President’s entire cabinet including the heads of every major agency.
The task force must make a recommendations within 180 days identifying “statutory, regulatory, or other changes that may be necessary to make policies, practices, and programs more effective means of supporting worker organizing and collective bargaining," according to the EO.
The EO gives the task force a clear mandate to use all available federal government resources towards increasing union membership specifically and supporting organized labor in general. The task force will “identify branch policies, practices, and programs that could be used, consistent with applicable law, to promote…support for worker power, worker organizing, and collective bargaining.” Further, this identification “shall include policies, practices, and programs that could be used to promote worker power in areas of the country with hostile labor laws, for marginalized workers, and hard to organize industries, and in changing industries."
The creation of the task force – filled with agency heads – shows a clear commitment of the Biden administration to use government resources to bolster organized labor and union representation. This sort of commitment by an administration is unprecedented, both in terms of a clear declaration of support for organized labor and the scope of resources devoted to furthering the organized labor agenda – with no mention of any role for the business community. Indeed, the language within the executive order identifies employers as having in practice “excluded [workers] from opportunities to organize unions and bargain collectively” resulting in workers “never [being] able to build meaningful economic power or have a voice in their workplaces.”
Meanwhile, President Biden also issued an Executive Order 14026 raising the minimum wage for federal contractors to $15 an hour. Beginning January 2022, all federal agencies will be required to incorporate the new minimum wage in new contract solicitations, and by March 2022, all agencies will be required to implement the new minimum wage into new contracts. Further, the minimum wage will be implemented into existing contracts when the contractor exercises its option to extend its contract. Finally, the tipped minimum wage will be eliminated for federal contractors by 2024. After 2022, the minimum wage will be indexed to inflation.
Outlook: The creation of the task force and the minimum wage increase for federal contractors show the Administration's full alignment with organized labor and how the administration can achieve its labor policy goals through executive order as an end around to enacting legislation such as the PRO Act.