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How Obama Paved the Way on Key Labor Issues

Amy Traub

It’s not every day that low-paid workers — cleaners mopping the floors of Washington’s Union Station, vendors selling pretzels at the National Zoo, servers dishing out hot lunch at congressional cafeterias — speak out and win a voice in setting national policy. Yet three years ago, that’s exactly what began to happen.

In May 2013, workers employed by private companies under contract with the federal government came together to form Good Jobs Nation – and walked out on strike in the nation’s capital.

Hundreds of workers flooded the streets of D.C. that day and for 17 more strikes in the years since. They stood up on behalf of nearly 2 million more workers who — as my Demos colleague Robert Hiltonsmith and I found in our research — were paid $12 an hour or less to work on behalf of the American people, employed by private companies through contracts, grants, loans, concession agreements and property leases with the federal government. At the same time, many of these same companies provided their executives with exorbitant compensation on the taxpayer dime. Even as President Obama and a growing number of economic analysts were identifying the loss of stable, middle-class jobs as a top national concern, U.S. tax dollars were effectively fueling the low-wage economy and exacerbating inequality.