One week after protests from low-wage workers at 1,500 Walmart stores nationwide, federal contract workers and fast food workers from over 100 U.S. cities walked off their jobs on Thursday to call for the implementation of a living wage.
In Washington, D.C., workers at a McDonald’s inside the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum joined with community leaders and members of the House of Representatives to call on President Obama to “lead by example.” McDonald’s has a federal contract to provide food service at the Smithsonian, and workers and community leaders want the president to sign an executive order that would ensure companies doing business with the federal government, like McDonald’s, pay a living wage and “give workers a voice on the job.”
Today, 2 million people subsist on federally contracted “poverty jobs.” Most of these 2 million working Americans have to rely on taxpayer-funded government assistance programs like food stamps just to survive. Right now, the federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour – not nearly enough for anyone to get by. Accompanied by unreliable hours, these low wages make it impossible for workers to get the funds they desperately need to provide for themselves and their families.
Workers are asking for a living wage of $15.00 per hour, which they say will allow them to get by without taxpayer-funded assistance.
The protest is part of a larger movement that today saw fast-food workers across the country walk off their jobs to take a stand in favor of a living wage.
Alexis Vasquez, a federal contract worker at the McDonald’s inside the National Air and Space Museum, receives $8.25 per hour – the District of Columbia minimum wage – and struggles to get by. “While McDonald’s rakes in tons of money from its contract with the federal government, I have to walk to work because I can’t even afford the bus fare.” Vasquez described how difficult it is to survive on just $8.25 an hour. “I want to go to college,” he said. But because he is stuck in a poverty job, he will have to put his “dream on hold.”
The McDonald’s Corporation costs taxpayers $1.2 billion in poverty benefits for its employees. The group claims that it operates on slim profit margins and is unable pay a living wage. But the 200,000+ people who signed a petition started by Campaign for America’s Future see it differently. That petition urges McDonald's CEO, Donald Thompson, to cancel his order for another corporate jet until the corporation stops impoverishing its employees. When Thompson feels McDonald’s can afford a brand new $35 million jet for its fleet, its claim that it can’t afford to raise the wages of its workers deserves scorn.
According to a report by the University of California-Berkeley, McDonald’s is the worst offender when it comes to its workers relying on taxpayer funded federal assistance. In the same report, it was found that more than 50 percent of “front line fast food workers,” earn so little that they are forced to rely on public assistance programs, which costs taxpayers over $7 billion annually.
The federal government is responsible for creating and contracting over 2 million low-wage jobs. In Washington, D.C. alone, 77 percent of federal contractors earn less than $10 per hour, and four in 10 rely on public assistance programs, such as food stamps and Medicaid just to survive.
The protesting workers’ and House Democrats’ call for President Barack Obama to sign an executive order address this has received virtually no response. By raising the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour, the President could provide a wealth of opportunity for federally contracted workers. With workers no longer having to rely on government assistance, taxpayers would not have to shell out $7 billion annually for public assistance programs. In addition, workers would be able to contribute to the economy and provide for themselves and their families.
After hearing about the workers’ struggling for years being employed under poverty wages, Rep. Janice Hahn (D-Calif.), wrapped up Thursday’s protest in front of the National Air and Space Museum, by telling the workers, “You deserve a break today.”
A $15-an-hour federal minimum wage would definitely serve as the break that all federal contract workers most desperately need.