Striking Federal Contractors: Thanks for the Raise, Obama, But We Want $15

Marina Fang

Workers at the U.S. Capitol building joined other federal contract workers in a one-day strike on Thursday. (Good Jobs Nation / Twitter)

For the first time in his­to­ry, fed­er­al con­tract work­ers at the U.S. Capi­tol build­ing walked off the job Thurs­day, fight­ing for a $15 min­i­mum wage, bet­ter ben­e­fits and the right to union­ize. They joined work­ers from the Pen­ta­gon, the Smith­son­ian muse­ums, the Nation­al Zoo and oth­er fed­er­al con­tract work­ers in the nation’s capital.

Accord­ing to the New York Times, the employ­ees — food ser­vice work­ers and jan­i­tors at some of Wash­ing­ton, D.C.’s most pop­u­lar tourist attrac­tions and busiest fed­er­al gov­ern­ment build­ings — are urg­ing Pres­i­dent Oba­ma to sign exec­u­tive orders that would pri­or­i­tize fed­er­al con­tracts to com­pa­nies who could guar­an­tee work­ers a $15 min­i­mum wage, health insur­ance and paid leave.

Though Oba­ma signed an exec­u­tive order in Feb­ru­ary that man­dates a $10.10 min­i­mum wage for all new fed­er­al con­tract work­ers, the 800 work­ers and sup­port­ers who ral­lied on Thurs­day are demand­ing high­er wages and more protections.

As ThinkProgress report­ed, the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment is essen­tial­ly the largest employ­er of con­tract work­ers in the coun­try. Though they are serv­ing the gov­ern­ment, these sub­con­trac­tors are pri­vate com­pa­nies and make mas­sive prof­its — while many employ­ees can bare­ly make ends meet.

Work­ers can count some Demo­c­ra­t­ic con­gres­sion­al lead­ers as allies. Accord­ing to the Huff­in­g­ton Post, on Mon­day, Rep. Raul Gri­jal­va (D‑Arizona), co-chair of the Con­gres­sion­al Pro­gres­sive Cau­cus, said that even though Repub­li­cans are cau­tion­ing against exec­u­tive action fol­low­ing Demo­c­ra­t­ic loss­es in last week’s midterm elec­tions, Oba­ma should seize the oppor­tu­ni­ty. Gri­jal­va and his co-chair Rep. Kei­th Elli­son (D‑Minnesota) hope to push the exec­u­tive orders.

The pres­i­dent is in a piv­otal posi­tion to go assertive­ly with exec­u­tive orders to cre­ate a polit­i­cal bal­ance and an eco­nom­ic bal­ance,” Gri­jal­va told reporters on a con­fer­ence call.

Mem­bers of the Pro­gres­sive Cau­cus joined Thursday’s march, includ­ing Elli­son and Rep. Judy Chu (D‑Calif.).

March­ing out­side the Capi­tol with fed­er­al work­ers on strike for a #liv­ing­wage of $15/​hr. #Good­Jobs pic​.twit​ter​.com/​u​G​o​6​k​VRlst

 — Judy Chu (@RepJudyChu) Novem­ber 132014

Elli­son told the crowd, We want more than min­i­mum wage. Who wants a min­i­mum any­thing? Do you want a min­i­mum marriage?”

The one-day strike was orga­nized by the Good Jobs Nation cam­paign, which is backed by the Ser­vice Employ­ees Inter­na­tion­al Union (SEIU) and has led nine oth­er strikes involv­ing fed­er­al con­tract work­ers in D.C. since May of last year.

Mari­na Fang is a Fall 2014 edi­to­r­i­al intern at In These Times. She is a senior at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go. She has also writ­ten for The Huff­in­g­ton Post and ThinkProgress. Fol­low her on Twit­ter: @thefanger.
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