Led by workers carrying a banner reading, “Smithsonian Workers on Strike,” 50 workers on July 11 marched through the streets of Washington DC to demand a living wage and to protest wage theft.
The workers, members of Good Jobs Nation, work for private contractors at the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum and American History Museum.
Their action last Thursday was the latest in a series of one-day strikes by low-wage workers at federal buildings in Washington DC.
The workers work for private companies that contract with the government to provide a wide array of services at federal facilities including food service, maintenance, and gift shop work.
“I have worked at the McDonald’s in the Air and Space Museum for nine years,” said Ana Hernandez, a Good Jobs Nation member. “And while my employer and the government make lots of money off of my work, I still only make $8.25 an hour.
“As a single mom, I struggle to afford the basics my family needs. Imagine trying to raise your family on $11,000 a year. You have to make hard choices, like putting food on the table or paying the bills. Having electricity or buying clothes for your children. We deserve a living wage for the hard work we do – and that’s why we went on strike last week.”
Earlier in the week, Good Jobs Nation filed a complaint with the US Department of Labor alleging wage theft by eight food vendors at the Ronald Reagan Building and the International Trade Center.
The complaint alleges that the contractors pay wages below the federal minimum wage and don’t follow federal overtime laws.
Good Jobs Nation is also asking President Obama to sign an executive order requiring federal contractors to pay a living wage.
As it turns out, the federal government is the largest employer of low-wage workers. According to a report by Demos, 2 million private sector workers working for federal contractors make $12 an hour or less, more than the number of low-wage workers who work for McDonald’s or Walmart.
“These workers represent a large spectrum of occupations, from workers sewing military uniforms to hospital aides funded by Medicare, security guards with contracts to protect public buildings, and food cart vendors at the National Zoo,” write Amy Traub and Robert Hiltonsmith in their introduction to the report.
Earlier this month, food service workers at the Reagan federal building in Washington DC staged a one-day strike.
Another Good Jobs Nation march and rally is planned for July 18.
After Smithsonian workers walked off the job on July 11, the Smithsonian management tried to assure the public that there were no real grievances among workers at the museums and that a strike did not take place.
Good Jobs Nation responded with a public statement by Hernandez. “The most shocking exhibit at the Smithsonian is the poverty wages workers are earning while serving food at the largest museum in the world,” she said. “And they won’t succeed in silencing our voices.”