Workers Ask President Obama to Raise Their Wages

September 26, 2013 | | Al Jazeera |

Delano Wingfield, 22, has been grilling up food and cleaning dishes at Roti Mediterranean Grill in Washington D.C.’s Union Station for almost a year. Struggling to get by on $9 an hour, he started encouraging coworkers to strike with him. His manager found out, he said, and slashed his hours.

“It was hard with 35 hours, and now I don’t know what I’m about to do with the 20 hours they gave me,” he said Wednesday. “I’m out here to make myself and everyone else more money.” (Wingfield’s manager did not respond to a request for comment.)

Wingfield was one of as many as 175 workers, according to organizers, who took part in a Wednesday strike in Washington planned by union-backed groups, and he's among an army of thousands of low-wage workers who have gone on one-day strikes in the last year. But unlike Walmart and fast-food workers who have also taken to the streets for better wages, Wingfield is not targeting his bosses, or Roti's corporate headquarters. He’s after President Obama. [...]

Federal contractors employ over a fifth of the American civilian workforce, and more than 560,000 of these workers earn $12 or less an hour, according to Demos, a liberal think tank. Many of them are cleaners and concession workers in federal buildings. If you include all the low-wage jobs funded by public dollars, including the 1.2 million paychecks underwritten by Medicare and Medicaid, the total, Demos found, surpasses the low-wage workforce of Walmart and McDonald’s combined. [...]

The role of federal contractors in income inequality was underscored by a Demos report released Tuesday evening that calculated if federal contractor executive pay was capped at $230,700 a year, hundreds of thousands of low-wage workers could get a raise of more than $6.50 an hour without any cost to taxpayers.