The fight to increase the minimum wage is gaining momentum, having garnered support in even the most conservative parts of the U.S. And this morning, hundreds of low-wage federal contract workers let their voices be heard when they walked off the job and descended on the U.S. Capitol to demand higher wages and the right to organize.
Led by a brass band, the march to the Capitol seemed like a revival. And once on the building’s grounds, workers were heard chanting “Si se puede” and “$10.10 is not enough.” They argued that despite President Obama’s executive order earlier this year that raised their salary to $10.10 an hour, workers deserve more given that their employers are making record profits.
Dawn Maynard, a food worker at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, said she can’t afford the basics for her family at a time when her husband is battling cancer. As a result, her family lost their apartment and had their car repossessed.
“I only bring home $200 a week,” she told the crowd while fighting back tears. “I can’t afford a pair of decent shoes or a decent coat. The $200 a week has to support me, my son and my husband, who has prostate cancer and bone cancer. It’s impossible to pay our bills.”
Hers was not the only story of struggle. One-by-one, contract workers from the U.S. Capitol shared stories of serving the nation’s most powerful while barely scraping by themselves. They were cheered on by their fellow contract workers from the Pentagon, the Ronald Reagan Federal Building and Washington’s Union Station.
Several lawmakers on hand at the event said that despite the recent election results, Congress needs to listen to their constituents who are overwhelmingly telling their representatives that the minimum wage needs to be raised.
“We need a livable wage, and we need union representation and collective bargaining because workers need to be able to say to those employers on the other side of the table, ‘We are the ones who keep this place clean and keep this place safe … without us this place does not work,’” Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) said.
The push for increased wages is not just going on in the nation’s capital. Teamster-aligned port truck drivers working for two trucking companies went out on strike today as well to protest the companies’ unfair treatment towards drivers.
In a world that seems increasingly dominated by corporations, the process of getting a fair shot in the workplace can seem infuriating. But the good news is that the public realizes what is going on. A recent poll finds that nearly 90 percent of American voters believe the growing income gap is a significant problem.
Elected officials ignore this at their own peril. It’s a matter of decency, justice and fairness.