Rally outside the Smithsonian museum on Dec. 5, 2013
Rally outside the Smithsonian museum on Dec. 5, 2013

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In December, local fast food workers employed in Smithsonian museums rallied outside the National Air and Space Museum and called on President Barack Obama to sign an executive order mandating that businesses contracting with the federal government pay their employees fair wages. Food service workers at Union Station held a similar rally this month, and last week, Pentagon fast food workers did the same.

Today, it looks like these rallies succeeded. Obama is expected to announce in his State of the Union address tonight that he will use his executive authority to raise the federal minimum wage for employees working under new federal contracts from $7.25 per hour to $10.10 per hour. The wage hike will not retroactively apply to existing contracts, only to new or renewed contracts.

“I’m excited that the president of the United States is on our side,” says Alexis Vasquez, who works at the McDonald’s at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum and earns $8.25 an hour. “This is a big change in my life.”

There are approximately 2 million workers who work on federal contracts in the United States, and according to a survey by the National Employment Law Project, nearly 75 percent of them make less than $10 per hour.

For federal contract workers in D.C., the executive order won’t mark the last wage bump they get in the near future: The city recently passed legislation that will incrementally raise the minimum wage from $8.25 to $11.50 in 2016.

Photo by Perry Stein