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Top Democrats React to Low-Wage Federal Workers’ Strike

In These Times

“I work at Quick Pita in the food court of the Ronald Reagan Building. I work nearly 12 hours every day serving lunch to the thousands of people who work in the building. But I am not here to tell you how hard I work. I am here to tell you that my employer does not follow the law,” testified Antonio Vanegas before a hearing of the Congressional Progressive Caucus yesterday.

Vanegas is one of 100,000 low-wage workers in the Washington, DC area, according to Good Jobs Nation, many of whom are employed by federal contractors or in federally owned buildings like Union Station, the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, and the Ronald Reagan Building. He and about 100 of his colleagues went on a one-day strike yesterday in order to draw attention to their low pay. [...]

Indeed, Vanegas’ case is not an isolated incident of federal contractors employing low-wage workers. A new study by the labor-funded think tank Demos estimates that through federal contracts, healthcare spending and loans and grants to the private sector, the federal government indirectly employs nearly 2 million "low-wage" workers, defined as those making less than $12 an hour or $24,000 a year. The study concluded that the federal government employs more low-wage workers than Wal-Mart and McDonalds combined. [...]

Demos Senior Policy Analyst Amy Traub, co-author of the recent report, argues that even the current wage rates set by the Service Contract Act are too low and do not reflect what are the national mean wages for the job categories in which workers are employed. At the hearing, advocates called on President Obama to issue an executive order that raise the act’s minimums and expand the act to cover more workers.