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Rally outside Union Station in Washington, DC, to support striking low-wage federal contract workers.
The latest round of low-wage workers to stage a one-day strike don't work for Walmart or McDonald's. They work for the federal government, kind of—for federal contractors in landmark Washington, DC, buildings like Union Station and the Smithsonian museums. A recent report from the think tank Demos found that there are more than 2 million people working for federal contractors at poverty-level wages. Today's strikers are asking President Obama to lift their wages, something he could do with an executive order. Their stories are like those of other low-wage workers, Josh Eidelson demonstrates:
“The truth is, I’m ready. I’m not scared,” janitor Vilma Martinez told The Nation in Spanish last night. “Fear fades away, especially in the face of the unfair treatment we get here.” Martinez, who’s worked at Union Station for the past 19 years, said that the federal contractor ICC Cleaning pays her $8.75 an hour. She said she’s supposed to get regular check-ups for a serious heart condition, but only sees a doctor when she goes back to El Salvador, because she’s uninsured. [...]

Martinez told The Nation that if she could talk to the president, “I would ask him to help us get a decent salary, and respect on the job, and health insurance, so we don’t have to go back to our countries to get treated.” “With the help of god, and the help of my co-workers,” said Martinez, “I’m hopeful that at the end of the day we’ll be triumphant.”

What's different is who's paying them. Our government shouldn't pay poverty wages. Sign our petition telling President Obama to sign the executive order that would give 2,000,000 federal workers a living wage.

10:06 AM PT: According to organizers, the strike has shut down about half the food court at the Ronald Reagan building and the McDonald's at the Air and Space Museum.

Originally posted to Daily Kos Labor on Tue May 21, 2013 at 07:00 AM PDT.

Also republished by In Support of Labor and Unions and Daily Kos.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Great action suggestion, and the more (6+ / 0-)

    money they have the more they will spend and help the economy. Win win !

    Move Single Payer Forward? Join 18,000 Doctors of PNHP and 185,000 member National Nurses United

    by divineorder on Tue May 21, 2013 at 07:12:57 AM PDT

  •  The article uses $12/h as too low a wage... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    MKSinSA

    ...and the petition is unclear what's being requested regarding wages or benefits.

    ...petition telling President Obama to issue an executive order requiring all federal contractors to pay a living wage and respect workers' rights.
    Good intentions but isn't this petition way too non-specific? Great piece by Demos though.
  •  Actually, the Congress holds the power of (4+ / 0-)

    the purse.  The executive can only spend what Congress appropriates.
    Appropriations, btw, are different from the budget. The annual budget scene is designed to impress the press and the public with Congressional "responsibility." Then, in committee, when hardly anyone is looking, they construct appropriations bills which include goodies for their friends and penalize the poor.
    The Tea Party people were right about the scam. They were wrong in letting themselves be misled into promoting candidates sponsored by "special interests" who felt ignored.
    The Koch Brothers perceive that they have been jerked around and they have. However, inveighing against earmarks is not a corrective.
    During the last three election cycles, the House has seen 212 freshmen. That turnover was obviously still not enough to impress the leadership. One suspects that power is more important to them than legislative success.
    Planning to fail seems to be habit forming.

    We organize governments to deliver services and prevent abuse.

    by hannah on Tue May 21, 2013 at 07:27:29 AM PDT

  •  I recall something about putting on comfortable (3+ / 0-)

    shoes back in 2007.   Can someone picket against one's own actions?

    Some men see things as they are and ask why. I dream of things that never were and ask why not?

    by RFK Lives on Tue May 21, 2013 at 07:27:30 AM PDT

  •  This doesn't go far enough. (10+ / 0-)

    We should demand an end to the privatization that brought on this mess in the first place, and a return to direct hiring by the Federal Government.

    These used to be decent jobs, with living wage and benefits.

    Furthermore, these private contractors don't save taxpayer a dime.  They only serve to mint a fresh class of 1% pimps who flourish at the expense of worker dignity, respect and economic justice.

    We really need to make this issue part of the National debate.

    Here's a link that explains it far better than I could ever;

    http://www.reuters.com/...

    We're all suspected terrorists.

    by Boberto on Tue May 21, 2013 at 08:06:41 AM PDT

    •  I think the ITC and Air and Space are different... (0+ / 0-)

      ...in terms of their potential to revert to public employment with good wages.  Air and Space is busy all day and the McDonald's could conceivably be converted to full-time' the ITC food court is only really busy a few hours a day.  

      You know, I sometimes think if I could see, I'd be kicking a lot of ass. -Stevie Wonder at the Glastonbury Festival, 2010

      by Rich in PA on Tue May 21, 2013 at 10:47:14 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Agreed..Privatization is the culprit here... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      shaharazade, Munchkn

      You can bet that the Federal government is paying way more than minimum wage here. It's just being skimmed off by private contractors.

  •  Can he actually do it? (0+ / 0-)
    •  Yes, he can (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      shaharazade, FG, Mr Robert, Munchkn

      President's can issue Executive Orders directed towards government contractors and how they conduct business using federal funds.

      Jimmy Carter used Executive Orders to give EEOC authority to enforce Equal Opportuny regs with all government contractors, among others.  EEOC began overseeing an initiative to require federal contractors abide by the law.

      Link

      Obama could issue something similar, requiring federal contractors to pay workers a living wage.  When a company contracts with the federal government, they are required to follow guidelines as requested.  POTUS has the authority to mandate certain guidelines be followed.  

      It's also been suggested that he use the same process to require more government contractors to employ US workers and give preference to US subcontractors and suppliers who employ US workers as a form of economic stimulus and job creation.

      "If you can't take their money, eat their food, drink their booze and then vote against them, you have no business being up there."

      by Betty Pinson on Tue May 21, 2013 at 11:00:08 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  So, he can make money out of thin air (0+ / 0-)

        to pay employees with?  Raising salaries is not the same as enforcing existing laws.

        "But the problem with any ideology is that it gives the answer before you look at the evidence." - President Clinton

        by anonevent on Tue May 21, 2013 at 11:36:18 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Contracting is a competitive process (0+ / 0-)

          if, for example, the WH were to set a new floor for employee wages on government contracts, it would be up to the contractor to find a way to make it work.  It's no secret there is plenty of profit to be gained in federal contracts.  Ask KBR.

          New government contracts are bid, negotiated and awarded every day.  Setting a new wage floor as part of the bid request doesn't mean the cost of contracts will increase.  Competition will keep the cost to government under control.

          "If you can't take their money, eat their food, drink their booze and then vote against them, you have no business being up there."

          by Betty Pinson on Tue May 21, 2013 at 01:30:18 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  And the bids would go up. (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Whatithink

            But there would be no more money to spend w/o Congressional approval, so something would have to be reduced (perhaps the hours the facilities are open for example) or revenue increased for those services that derive direct income (perhaps the price of a salad would increase by 30%).

            It is unlikely that the bids wouldn't go up at least some portion of the wage increases. After all, the bidding process is already competitive, so ridiculous margins are already squeezed out - at least in theory, and that's the theory you are relying on for your analysis.

  •  The problem is Obama has a very (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    TexasTom, Whatithink

    conservative view of his ability to issue executive orders...not executive action, which he gladly wields on national security issues, but executive orders. Its been reported this week that the WH has basically been running everything by the WH counsel to see what authority they have on all these agency issues and she's been the reason they were a little slow cause she takes a strict interpretation of what leeway they have. If thats true, then it would explain their reluctance on EO's, cause thats explicitly signed off and overseen by the WH counsels office.

    Now, I don't think its something sinister like some people here, i.e. when Obama says he can't do a policy via executive order what he really means is that he's against the policy. If you believe he was against DADT repeal, the dream act, ENDA...all issues he's been unwilling to take executive action on, then you're probably not gonna be convinced even if he did do the EO, because then it would be about throwing a bone to his base, or covering his back etc...

    I think thats the machiavellian persona liberal critics of Obama tend to put on him, its like the flip side of the 11th dimensional chess fans of the president. Both view the President as a shrewd operator playing a different game and both choose to see things that aren't there so there pre-disposed view of the president can remain intact.

    So long story short, I don't see Obama doing this, which is tragic. I really hope he changes on these EO issues because with republicans in the house, its all he has. He could do ENDA for federal contractors, minimum wage for Federal Contractors, and a lot of Climate policy. I think he may do climate policy, but the other stuff just won't happen.

  •  The gov't doesn't even "sort of" pay their wages. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    TexasTom, WillR, Whatithink

    My guess is that it's leased space--the government leases it to franchisees or whoever.  I don't believe the President, or the GSA, can raise their wages by executive order.  More likely it would require legislation which isn't going to happen.  

    You know, I sometimes think if I could see, I'd be kicking a lot of ass. -Stevie Wonder at the Glastonbury Festival, 2010

    by Rich in PA on Tue May 21, 2013 at 10:45:07 AM PDT

  •  If a Beltway centrist is not there to write about (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    shaharazade, xxdr zombiexx, Egalitare

    it, it doesn't happen ...

  •  I don't work for the feds. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    shaharazade, Munchkn

    I work for the state.

    But I was looking at what I made when I became a full time employee nearly 30 years ago.

    Then I looked at what the current salary is now for when a person becomes a full time employee.

    Using an online inflation calculator it says that the kids who become full time employees today in real terms are making 3500 dollars less than I did back then.

    Not only are they making less in real terms but many of the good benefits have been eliminated for the newer folks.

    •  Not only that (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      shaharazade

      Back then, the use of term appointments was viewed as a sort of probationary period. A window to check someone out before eventually offering a term position.

      Now, at least in the agency for which I work (I'll say no more), terms are the norm, getting a permanent position is next to impossible, and job security is like the Easter bunny- something you believed in when you were a kid.

      Small varmints, if you will.

      by aztecraingod on Tue May 21, 2013 at 10:59:29 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  So he makes everybody pay janitors $12/hr (0+ / 0-)

    Do you think contractors are just going to eat that? No, they're going to pass it on, meaning more costly contracts for the same services. So agencies have even less money to do the actual work of government. And then we can all bitch about how HUD isn't doing enough to provide housing assistance because they dont have the money.

    I'm not saying these workers don't deserve a higher wage, but it's not as simple as just requiring contractors to pay more.

    •  It has to start somewhere.....a living wage (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RadGal70, Mr Robert

      is not an optional item

      An idea is not responsible for who happens to be carrying it at the moment. It stands or falls on its own merits.

      by don mikulecky on Tue May 21, 2013 at 11:21:39 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  We cannot possibly pay people more. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Mr Robert, Munchkn

      Corporations are just getting by as it is.

      If America is going to be saved, Americans will simply have to work for less and less and settle for less and less so the filthy rich can stay filthy rich.

      Those protesting for more will have to do more than just "protest'.

      This country is YEARS overdue for massive sustained strikes.

      No...I haven't given up on Americans finally doing what will work, but I know they will continue to see 'voting' and using the current political system to 'effect changes'. Voting created the situation we are in: it is fundamentally insane to imagine 'voting' will fix it.

      Over the next 20-30 years we will vote in a lot more dems, many of them 'better dems'. A few decades after that...
      We're fucked as long as people see 'the system' as something that will work for them.
  •  "Could" (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Mr Robert

    Obama "could" do a hell of a lot.

    But..... you know..... He is the Ultimate Responsible Serious Adult so the real changes are under the bus; Kabuki is on tap.

    Enjoy your theater.

  •  "Behind the Kitchen Door" by Saru (0+ / 0-)

    Jayaraman is a push for justice for restaurant workers.

    ...Son, those Elephants always look out for themselves. If you happen to get a crumb or two from their policies, it's a complete coincidence. -Malharden's Dad

    by slowbutsure on Tue May 21, 2013 at 11:25:50 AM PDT

  •  Ya know (0+ / 0-)

    Our President is already on record as ..ah well a singer...
    I truly believe that on the same day he crushes the XL pipeline..he will gather the press to the rose garden and lead them in this...

    ....or maybe not

    http://www.youtube.com/...

    ashes..ashes..we all fall down..

  •  Obama could give striking workers the raise needed (0+ / 0-)

    But, of course he won't.  This President has proven himself to be a supporter of unfettered capitalism...uncontrolled corporations.

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