Low-wage Pentagon workers strike; Pres. Obama to raise minimum wage for federal contractors

About 50 cleaning and food service workers walked off the job at the Pentagon on January 22 to protest low-wages and to demand that President Obama take executive action to raise the minimum wage for workers employed by private federal contractors.

The strikers were joined by about 100 more supporters for a rally outside of the Pentagon.

The strike and rally were organized by Good Jobs Nation.

“A study of federal contract workers found that 77 percent of them earn under $10 an hour,” said Reverend Michael Livingston of Interfaith Worker Justice as he spoke at the rally. “Four in ten rely on public assistance programs like food stamps and Medicaid to survive. Shame on the federal government!”

The action at the Pentagon is the seventh strike in seven months by low-wage workers employed by private companies that provide an array of services to the federal government.

According to Demos, there are 2 million workers employed by these private contractors throughout the US who make less than $12 an hour.

In fact, the federal government has become the largest employer of low-wage workers surpassing both McDonald’s and Walmart.

At one time, many of these jobs were government jobs that paid a decent wage and provided benefits.

But the wave of privatization that began in the 1990s, eliminated many of the these jobs.

The services that these workers provided were taken over by private companies that pay low wages and provide few if any benefits.

“I’ve worked here for eight years,” said Robin Law a Pentagon striker employed by Sbarro, a pizza chain with a restaurant in the Pentagon. “I started at $8 an hour then went up to $10. When the government shut down happened, he took my wage down to $8. Rent, food, clothing, heat, school supplies–I struggle to pay bill. I work full time and still struggle.”

Law also said that she has no paid sick leave, doesn’t get paid for holidays, and has no paid vacation. “If I don’t work, I don’t get paid,” she said.

Good Jobs Nation over the last seven months has been organizing one-day strikes and rallies like the one at the Pentagon to call attention to the plight of low-wage government contract workers and to pressure President Obama into signing an executive order to raise the minimum wage for these workers.

Up until now, the position of the Administration has been that it would prefer to increase the minimum wage through legislative rather than executive action.

But that position has changed.

On the morning of January 28, the Washington Post reported that in the President’s State of the Union address, Mr Obama will announce that he will issue an executive order raising the minimum wage for federal contract workers to $10.10.

“I applaud President Obama for issuing this executive order which will raise wages for hundreds of thousands of low-wage workers,” said US Senator Bernie Sanders, who in September had written to the President urging him to issue an executive order establishing a minimum wage for federal contractors. “The president has made it clear that employees working for government contractors should not be paid starvation wages. This executive order also gives us momentum for raising the minimum wage for every worker in this country to at least $10.10 an hour.”

While this order will mean relief for many low-wage workers in the not-too-distant future, it won’t have an immediate impact.

According to the Washington Post, the executive order will apply only to new contracts that become effective at the beginning of fiscal year 2015, which begins October 1, 2014.

Those working for less than $10.10 who work for employers whose contract doesn’t come up for renewal will have to wait until their employers’ contract is renewed.

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