Many critics have called President Barack Obama’s executive order raising the minimum wage for federally contracted workers an unprecedented bold action. The president bypassed a gridlocked Congress to increase pay to $10.10 an hour — and raise labor standards for the only federal workers directly within his authority.
This move is a significant step in combating income inequality. The federal government is the largest low-wage job creator — with more than 2 million low-wage workers. That’s more than Wal-Mart and McDonald’s combined.
This move is bold, yes. But not unprecedented. The path to this solution was paved more than 70 years ago by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
During World War Two, de facto racial discrimination in federal agencies’ hiring standards meant that black workers were essentially barred from federal jobs. The civil rights leader A. Philip Randolph rallied opposition against this discrimination by organized labor. Workers, community leaders and faith leaders united to pressure Roosevelt into taking action. FDR was facing the threat of a 50,000-person march on Washington.
Roosevelt responded with an executive order — the Fair Employment Act of 1941. He declared “there shall be no discrimination in the employment of workers in defense industries and in government, because of race, creed, color, or national origin.”