When the Labor Department ruled last week that 674 workers in the cafeteria of the United States Senate had been denied their full pay in recent years, the contractor that runs the cafeteria said it was an accident. The workers said it was deliberate.
The problems are not confined to the capital. Studies show that across the nation, hundreds of billions of dollars in federal money flow to federal contractors that pay poorly, leaving workers dependent on public aid. Meanwhile, executive pay at federal contractors has risen.
Presidents have executive authority to set standards for federal contractors. Past presidents have used that authority to bar discrimination in the hiring of federal contract employees and to promote affirmative action. President Obama has gone partway toward solving the problem of low pay and poor conditions by requiring most contractors to pay their workers at least $10.10 an hour and by requiring federal departments to assess potential contractors’ records of labor-law compliance when awarding contracts. Such actions do more than improve the work lives of employees. They set an example for all employers.