In May 2013, low-wage workers in federal buildings in Washington began walking off the job in a series of one-day strikes. Employed by concessionaires and janitorial contractors at places like the Smithsonian and the Ronald Reagan Building, the workers said their rock-bottom wages weren't enough to survive on. Like the Walmart and fast-food workers also going on strike, they asked for better working conditions and a greater share of the spoils.
Calling themselves Good Jobs Nation, and backed by the Change to Win union federation, the workers crystallized their grievances into a clear policy demand: A higher minimum wage for workers employed under federal contracts. They enlisted members of Congress -- most notably Reps. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus -- to pressure President Barack Obama on the issue. And Demos, a progressive think tank, put together a series of reports making the case for presidential executive action.
In January, the workers' demand ended up on the largest of possible stages: The president's State of the Union address. Kicking off what he deemed a "year of action," Obama announced that by executive order he would set a minimum wage of $10.10 per hour for workers under federal contracts, a move he urged Congress to follow with a raise to the federal minimum wage.