‘$10.10 is Not Enough,’ Federal Contract Workers Tell Obama

Bruce Vail

Monica Martinez (right with microphone) addresses a crowd of federal contract workers in Washington, D.C. Martinez' demand for the right to unionize is being supported by Sister Simone Campbell (center) of "Nun On The Bus" fame.

The labor fed­er­a­tion Change to Win is urg­ing Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma to do more to help low-wage work­ers employed by pri­vate con­trac­tors at fed­er­al installations. 

Yes­ter­day, some 50 work­ers and sup­port­ers involved with Change to Win’s Good Jobs Nation cam­paign ral­lied at the entrance to the Smith­son­ian Institute’s Nation­al Air & Space Muse­um. Chant­i­ng “$10.10 is not enough,” the group called on Oba­ma to issue a new exec­u­tive order that would require pri­vate busi­ness­es with gov­ern­ment con­tracts to nego­ti­ate union agree­ments with their workers. 

Ear­li­er this year, Oba­ma issued a sim­i­lar order rais­ing the min­i­mum wage to $10.10 an hour for fed­er­al con­trac­tors, fol­low­ing agi­ta­tion by Good Jobs Nation. Now, the cam­paign is hop­ing that Oba­ma will go fur­ther; accord­ing to Good Job Nation orga­niz­er Paco Fabi­an, an exec­u­tive order encour­ag­ing union orga­niz­ing has long been a goal of some labor activists, who point to cas­es where some anti-union gov­ern­ment con­trac­tors have sup­pressed union orga­niz­ing cam­paigns using pub­lic funds.

We need a liv­ing wage and ben­e­fits,” says Yese­nia Vega, a work­er at a McDonald’s restau­rant locat­ed at the Pen­ta­gon office build­ing right out­side Wash­ing­ton, D.C. At her work­place, she tells Work­ing In These Times, the man­agers are always telling us they’ll cut our hours,” so a union con­tract is need­ed to ensure a sta­ble income. She and oth­er work­ers at the Pentagon’s McDonald’s are also seek­ing decent health insur­ance, vaca­tion ben­e­fits and paid sick days, none of which are cur­rent­ly avail­able to them. We need a union to get these things,” she says.

Vega and oth­ers work­ers address­ing the ral­ly did not spec­i­fy which union they hoped to join. But it’s like­ly that the Ser­vice Employ­ees Inter­na­tion­al Union (SEIU), one of the found­ing mem­bers of the Change to Win fed­er­a­tion, would take the lead in orga­niz­ing fast-food work­ers, as it has done in the Fight for 15” cam­paign demand­ing a $15 min­i­mum wage and a union at fast-food restau­rants nationwide

Join­ing the work­ers was Sis­ter Simone Camp­bell—a Catholic social jus­tice activist best known as author of A Nun on the Bus: How All of Us Can Cre­ate Hope, Change, and Com­mu­ni­tywho deliv­ered a state­ment back­ing the demonstrators: 

I strong­ly sup­port a key ele­ment of Pres­i­dent Obama’s agen­da, which is to raise the min­i­mum wage. Ulti­mate­ly, the min­i­mum wage should be a liv­ing wage – pro­vid­ing low-wage work­ers with what they need to rise out of pover­ty and care for their fam­i­lies. That is jus­tice. I hope the pres­i­dent will now go fur­ther and allow these fed­er­al con­tract work­ers the free­dom to form a union and bar­gain col­lec­tive­ly with their employers.

Unions ben­e­fit women,” Sis­ter Camp­bell con­tin­ued to cheers from the large­ly female crowd, assert­ing that union­ized His­pan­ic and African Amer­i­can women earn bet­ter wages than non-union female workers.

Change to Win’s Fabi­an explains that a new fed­er­al pol­i­cy grant­i­ng broad­er col­lec­tive-bar­gain­ing rights to gov­ern­ment con­tract work­ers has long been a goal of labor advo­cates because it could have broad impact in improv­ing work­ing con­di­tions through­out the econ­o­my. Some work­er activists were dis­ap­point­ed that such lan­guage was not includ­ed when the White House draft­ed the min­i­mum wage exec­u­tive order ear­ly this year, Fabi­an says, but were eager to see the wage pro­pos­al move for­ward as a first step.

We didn’t think that com­plain­ing about the union­iza­tion part made a lot of sense when the pres­i­dent was get­ting ready to sign the exec­u­tive order on $10.10,” he says. We are hap­py he did that and we appre­ci­ate it. But now it’s time to move forward.”

Bruce Vail is a Bal­ti­more-based free­lance writer with decades of expe­ri­ence cov­er­ing labor and busi­ness sto­ries for news­pa­pers, mag­a­zines and new media. He was a reporter for Bloomberg BNA’s Dai­ly Labor Report, cov­er­ing col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing issues in a wide range of indus­tries, and a mar­itime indus­try reporter and edi­tor for the Jour­nal of Com­merce, serv­ing both in the newspaper’s New York City head­quar­ters and in the Wash­ing­ton, D.C. bureau.
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