President Barack Obama discussed many issues important to workers in his State of the Union address Tuesday night. The feisty president laid out some new initiatives and renewed his call for congressional support for workers. Here are a few highlights:
- A new minimum wage for future federal contracts. President Obama said he would issue an executive order raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour for workers on new federal contracts. "If you cook our troops' meals or wash their dishes, you shouldn't have to live in poverty," he said.
- A call on Congress to pass legislation raising a minimum wage for every worker in America, including federal employees. The president also called on Congress to pass the Fair Minimum Wage Act that would raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10. "Say yes. Give America a raise," he said. The bill is sponsored by Rep. George Miller of California and Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa and would apply to federal employees, including wage-grade workers who need it the most.
- Government functions. The president said Congress' obsession over the proper size of the federal government prevented the government from carrying out even the most basic functions when it was forced to shut down. He called on Congress to make 2014 a year of action and praised lawmakers for reaching a budget agreement last month that undoes some severe cuts such as education. But more needs to be done to invest in the country's future. "The budget compromise should leave us freer to focus on creating new jobs, not creating new crises," he said.
- Job creation, job training, unemployment insurance. The president wants to use savings from a small scale tax reform to fund infrastructure projects and create jobs. He called on Congress to restore cuts to federally-funded research, pointing out that it led to ideas and innovations behind new technologies like Google and smartphones. He appointed Vice President Joe Biden to reform job training programs to give workers news skills and fulfill companies' specific needs. He called on CEOs to give long-term unemployed workers a fair shot at new jobs. Many CEOs are coming to the White House this week to make that commitment. The president called on Congress to restore unemployment insurance it let expire for 1.6 million people. "Give them the chance. They need our help right now, but more important, this country needs them in the game," he said.
- Equal pay for equal work, worker-friendly workplaces. Women make up half of the workforce, but they still make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. "That is wrong. And in 2014, that's an embarrassment," the president said. He added that workers, male and female, deserve a day off to care for a sick child or sick parent without running into hardship. "It is time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a "Mad Men" episode."