Workers rally in DC. (Credit: GoodJobsNation.com)
An update appears below.
Starting at 7:30 this morning, hundreds of non-union workers with taxpayer-supported jobs plan to go on strike in the nation’s capitol. Organizers expect the one-day walkout to include workers employed at Smithsonian museums, the Old Post Office and Ronald Reagan buildings and Union Station, where tourists, lobbyists and members of Congress arrive by Amtrak train to Washington, DC. The strikers are part of a recently-unveiled organization, Good Jobs Nation, backed by labor and community groups. They’re demanding that President Obama take action to improve wages and working conditions for workers employed under federal contracts.
“The truth is, I’m ready. I’m not scared,” janitor Vilma Martinez told The Nation in Spanish last night. “Fear fades away, especially in the face of the unfair treatment we get here.” Martinez, who’s worked at Union Station for the past nineteen years, said that the federal contractor ICC Cleaning pays her $8.75 an hour. She said she’s supposed to get regular check-ups for a serious heart condition, but only sees a doctor when she goes back to El Salvador, because she’s uninsured.
Today’s strike follows the release last week of a report from the progressive think tank Demos estimating that at least 1,992,000 workers receive $12 per hour or less while doing jobs backed by public funds. “Through federal contracts and other funding,” authors Amy Traub and Robert Hiltonsmith wrote, “our tax dollars are fueling the low-wage economy and exacerbating inequality.”
Traub and Hiltonsmith’s tally includes jobs funded or supported through direct federal contracts (560,000 jobs), Medicare or federal Medicaid spending (1,184,000 jobs), Small Business Administration loans, federal Child Health Insurance Program (CHIP) spending, federal infrastructure funds or Public Buildings Service property leases. “This is more than the number of low-wage workers at Walmart and McDonalds combined,” write Traub and Hiltonsmith. At the other end of the pay scale, they note, the executives who employ these workers can legally be reimbursed by taxpayers for total compensation of up to $763,029 per year.
The Office of Management and Budget did not respond to a request for comment on the study late Monday afternoon.
Good Jobs Nation is backed by organizations including the community organizing group OUR DC, the clergy group Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference and the labor federation Change to Win. As The Nation has reported, Change to Win affiliates have also provided support for recent strikes by non-union workers worked employed in Walmart stores, in sub-contracted Walmart warehouses, on sub-contracted cleaning crews in Twin Cities Target stores and in fast food restaurants in five cities.