Thursday, July 18, 2013

Workers strike, storm DC rail station, demand living wage from federal contractors

Scores of Washington, D.C., federal contract workers walked off the job and stormed the city's main rail station today to voice their anger over their poverty wages. The rally at Union Station is the third one-day strike in three weeks by workers demanding the government require its contractors to pay employees fairly.

Workers call out federal contractors for low wages.
Demonstrators brought attention to their plight by walking through the station where many of them are employed. They were seen by hundreds of commuters toward the end of the morning rush hour before being asked to leave. They later took their fight to the U.S. Department of Transportation, where they "pied" a protester dressed as Uncle Sam.

The Twitter feed of @GoodJobsNation gave a full running commentary of the morning's events, which showed workers trying to feed their families on $8.25 an hour aren't going to take it anymore. Among the chants heard at the rally:
American flag UP! Corporate flag DOWN! Workers' wages UP! Corporate wages DOWN!
Members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus attended the rally and urged President Obama to sign an executive order to ensure federal contract workers are paid a living wage. Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison tweeted:
We're going to demand that the Prez sign an executive order to make sure you're paid a #livingwage
Ellison speaks to strikers
The protest comes at the same time as the release of a new report by the National Employment Law Project (NELP). The report details how the federal government is promoting poverty through its contracting practices. The paper notes that Americans are funding millions of low-wage jobs through federal contracts that keep places like the Smithsonian Institution running and haul loads of cargo out of the Port of Charleston:
We interviewed a total of 567 workers in federally contracted jobs: 104 workers who
manufacture military uniforms in Tennessee, Kentucky, and Puerto Rico; 429 workers in Washington, D.C., who provide food service, retail services, or janitorial services in various buildings occupied or controlled by the federal government; and 34 port truckers who haul loads under federal contracts out of the port of Charleston, South Carolina.
NELP calls for administrative action so that so many workers won't fall through the cracks. A poll done as part of the report shows that 74 percent of those employed under federal contract jobs earn less than $10 an hour. Only 26 percent receive sick days, and only 11 percent receive employer-provided health insurance. One in five depends on Medicaid for health care:
The federal government needs to lead by example as it once did and ensure that federally linked activity does not inadvertently subsidize low-road employment and fuel poverty, but instead supports the type of quality jobs that communities and our economy need to grow and thrive once more.
DCist just published a report on the strike, noting:
They also chanted, "We can't survive on 8.25," which is the minimum wage in the District of Columbia. As DCist previously noted, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's urban planning department's "living wage calculator" places the living wage for one adult in D.C. at $13.68 per hour.
Stay tuned.