If you think the work of Congress has slowed to a crawl these days, check out the Capitol’s gift shops and concession stands; some workers have decided to give themselves a day off today—while they wait for a raise from Uncle Sam.
Janitors and food service workers at federal monuments are tired of earning a pittance on the taxpayers’ dime, so they’ve gone on a one-day strike. They join workers across the country to demand from Washington what their fellow fast-food workers and retail clerks in the private sector are demanding from private firms: $15 an hour and union rights.
Backed by various Congressional Progressive Caucus members, protesters are rallying under a big Help Wanted sign: “Hiring: A President who will sign a $15+Union Executive Order,” in hopes that the Obama administration (or the next president) will bypass congressional inertia to give contract workers a fair day’s pay.
The workers draw inspiration from the recent April 15 protests in more than 230 cities nationwide, which focused on the giant corporations notorious for keeping wages stagnant. At the same time, the Capitol worker strikes are extending an ongoing contract workers’ economic justice campaign, which is pressing the federal government to renew its historical role as the Big Boss—with the economies of scale that can intervene and boost working conditions across whole industries and communities.
The target of the campaign is hundreds of thousands of jobs in programs and companies subsidized by federal loans, grants and other funds. Despite feeding off public coffers, these measures often don’t pay workers enough to feed their families. With so many poverty-wage jobs being financed by Washington, labor advocates say the feds are squandering an opportunity to uplift the lowest-paid segments of the workforce.
Good Jobs Nation, a coalition of progressive groups, wants the White House to build on two executive actions from last year: a minimum wage hike for federal contract workers to $10.10 per hour—matching a long-stalled minimum-wage proposal in Congress—and the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces order, which tightened oversight of contractors’ compliance with labor and safety regulations.