By Daniel Salazar, McClatchy Washington Bureau (MCT)
WASHINGTON — Federal contract workers at the U.S. Capitol and other high profile locations in Washington planned to go on a one-day strike Thursday, pushing for higher wages and collective bargaining rights.
The food service workers at the Capitol and Pentagon will be joined by workers at the National Air and Space Museum and the National Zoo as well as Union Station, a major Washington train station.
The protest is aimed at President Barack Obama, designed to press him for an executive order to contractors paid by the federal government to provide services such as food courts in government buildings.
“This is (Obama’s) opportunity to help workers that he’s responsible for and that he can have an effect on and improve their working conditions,” said Paco Fabian, the communications director for Change to Win, a labor organization taking part in the strike.
In February, Obama signed an executive order boosting the minimum wage for federal contractors from $7.25 per hour to $10.10 per hour. In late July, the administration issued another executive order requiring prospective federal contractors to disclose past labor law violations.
The hike to $10.10 per hour will be effective on Jan. 1. After 2015, the U.S. labor secretary will determine raises in the wage floor on a yearly basis.
But some labor groups and wage hike advocates say more executive action is needed.
“Nobody is going to get lifted out of poverty on $10.10 an hour,” Fabian said.
One of those planning to strike Thursday was Reginald Lewis Sr., 50, of Hyattsville, Md., a dishwasher at the Capitol. Although he makes $12 per hour, he says the area’s high cost of living is challenging to keep up with.
“I’m barely making it to get to work and back home,” Lewis said.
The strike was organized by Good Jobs Nation, a labor-backed campaign that has organized multiple strikes of federally contracted workers in Washington.
Backed by dozens of labor groups and other left-leaning organizations, the Good Jobs Nation campaign released a policy report on Monday demanding the government give further preference to contractors that pay higher wages to their employees.
Fabian said protesters want a $15 per hour wage as well as the ability to collectively organize. He said those hopes have been inspired by fast-food worker strikes around the country earlier this year.
But Fabian said further wage hikes approved by Congress are highly unlikely for federally contracted workers.
“What we have left over the next two years is executive action from the president,” he said.
“The president knows when the federal government leads the private sector follows,” said Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. “I hope he will take more bold action to reward federal contractors who treat their employees fairly and give workers a seat at the table to negotiate wages and benefits.”
Photo: eschipul via Flickr