Low-Wage Federally-Contracted Employees Hold Third Strike For Livable Wages
3:09 pm, July 18th | by Colette McIntyre
Service workers at Washington D.C.’s Union Station staged a walk out Thursday morning, demanding that the federal government start paying livable wages through its private-sector contractors. This marks the third strike in eight weeks by low-wage federally-contracted employees.
Like the previous strikes at the Reagan Building, the Air and Space Museum, and the American History Museum, Union Station workers were organized by Good Jobs Nation, a labor group that has united to “call on the federal government to stop being America’s leading poverty job creator.” In the past two months, the campaign has engaged in employee walkouts and civil disobedience in order to garner better pay for the more than two million service employees who work for vendors in federal buildings. So far, Good Jobs Nation has succeeded in sparking investigations into wage theft and other abuses.
Courtney Shackleford, a young employee at the Union Station Ben & Jerry’s and full-time Trinity Washington University student, told ThinkProgress why she felt compelled to join Thursday’s protest: “It’s hard because I want to be able to get my own place and still pay off school, but I can’t,” she said. “Depending on my hours, I might make $700 in a month, but living in D.C. rent alone is $700 or $800.” With an unstable work schedule and the paltry wage of $8.25 an hour, Shackleford struggles to meet the basic cost of living, even though she lives at home. Her job does not provide health insurance.
Shackleford is just one of the many women affected by lowered living standards and income inequality: nearly two-thirds of minimum wage workers are women. Women make up nearly two-thirds of the workers in tipped occupations, 70 percent of servers, 72 percent of cashiers, and over half of the retail workforce.
According to a report from the National Employment Law Project, a not-for-profit that conducts research and advocates on issues affecting low-wage and unemployed workers, 75 percent of these federally-contracted service workers earn less than $10 an hour and nearly 40 percent rely on public assistance despite working full-time. The government’s contracting practices has led it to become a larger low-wage employer than McDonald’s and Walmart combined.
Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) and D.C’s non-voting congressional delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), two of the seventeen House members who signed a letter urging President Obama to take action against federal contracts that fail to pay livable wages, joined the workers’ strike.
“A great variety of vendors and contractors that pay their employees low wages provide many kinds of goods and services to the federal government,” the House members wrote. “However, the nation’s capital, home of the nation’s monumental tourist sites and buildings, is the visible epicenter of federal collusion with vendors and contractors that pay low wages to their employees at federal sites.”