Once upon a time, the term “government job” was not synonymous with boondoggles, corruption or the perennial “waste, fraud and abuse.” During the New Deal, the state proudly created jobs and spent public money as a vital intervention to check the excesses of market capitalism. Today, the public is disgusted with both fiscal policy and the free market. Yet some advocates are pushing for a re-priming of the pump, with an executive order that would uplift millions of workers by pulling federal purse strings.
According to a new report by Demos, the White House could immediately improve the working conditions of the country’s low-wage workers with a strong executive order that establishes model labor policies at workplaces linked to federal programs. These policies could in turn promote greater equity for the private-sector labor force as well. The proposal—a set of rules that ensure decent labor standards and protect collective bargaining rights—could affect 21 million people nationwide.
Demos proposes executive actions the White House could take right now without having to go through Congress. In recent months, President Obama has moved ahead of the legislature with executive measures that strengthened anti-discrimination protections and raised the wage floor for low-wage contract workers.
Advocates, along with some progressive members of Congress, hope the White House builds upon the earlier pro-worker measures by enacting a more comprehensive framework for improving working conditions. The proposed “Good Jobs Executive Order” is far from radical, though. It would simply codify crucial workplace protections: the right to collectively bargain, to a living wage and comprehensive benefits, solid regulations on wages and hours as well as health and safety rules. And finally, it would compel workplaces to set reasonable limits on executive salaries to prevent the massive wealth imbalance that pervades corporate America: ‘Limiting executive compensation to fifty times the median salary paid to the company’s workers.”
The proposed executive order would target the “federally supported workforce” workers whose income is supported by a federal contract or direct federal payment—which includes workers for federally contracted production of goods and services, Medicare and Medicaid-related services, “Concessions and leasing arrangements in federal facilities, parks, and other properties,” and existing infrastructure and welfare programs.
(Courtesy of Demos)
This labor force, which is about 14 percent of all private-sector workers, is 70 percent female and nearly half people of color—workers who have been hit hard by the recession, benefit particularly from anti-discrimination protections for public sector workers, and have historically been economically marginalized in the private sector.