Labor Secretary Finalizes Minimum Wage Hike

Home Care Worker: Photo Credit San Francisco Sentinel

Home Care Worker: Photo Credit San Francisco Sentinel

On Wednesday, Oct. 1, Labor Secretary Thomas Perez issued a final rule raising the minimum wage for federal contractors to $10.10 per hour, effective Jan. 1, 2015. According to the Associated Press, the change will impact more than 200,000 workers.

The top ten federal government contractors in 2012 were Lockheed Martin, Northrup Grumman, Boeing, SAIC, Raytheon, General Dynamics, Hewlett Packard, Booz Allen Hamilton, Computer Sciences Corporation, and DynCorp International. They will feel the minimum wage hike a bit, but for the vast majority of Americans, especially the working class, the changes by the Labor Department will pass unnoticed.

The Labor Department also announced that effective Jan. 1, 2015, most direct care workers will be entitled to receive federal minimum wage and overtime pay protections. Direct care workers are workers who provide home care services, such as certified nursing assistants, home health aides, personal care aides, caregivers, and companions.

This is how change happens: bit by bit, incrementally, and job by job.

While many hoped for big changes when President Obama was sworn into office, expectations were set so high, he had an impossible task to meet them. While some small companies may complain about the new federal minimum wage rules, it is a basic tenant of living in our country that companies that secure a federal contract should pay a reasonable wage. Likewise, the notion that home care is real work, and that when a person runs a business that provides home care, they should be subject to paying the federal minimum wage with overtime is obvious. The rules set by the secretary create a floor, one that has been needed for a long time.

People who operate businesses want to make a profit, and that’s no crime. Running a profitable business is something basic and needed in our society. The political debate has been about the amount of government regulation and subsidy, and the dynamic of our bicameral legislature has been to create an environment that favors large, corporate businesses in the post-World War II era. Businesses like the top federal contractors.

At the same time, there is an economy of low wage workers, like those that provide home care. Someone knows a friend or relative who needs care, and an agreement is reached for compensation. The amount of compensation may not be as important as providing the service, especially when people can’t afford professional care. Personal relationships enter into the picture. Often this work is done off the books.

My point is this. Between the publicized, formal programs of the Labor Department and the reality of daily life there is and always will be a gap. That’s where many of us live our lives. We should appreciate the work of the Obama administration to fix known problems like those related to federal contractor wages and home care workers. In the working class, we may view that as nice, but less relevant to our lives than all of the brouhaha suggests.

It is something that we even noticed President Obama did what he said he would with regard to setting the minimum wage for federal contractors. But then that’s what blogs are for.

~ Written for Blog for Iowa

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