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Capitol Workers Ask to Meet With Pope Francis

Charles Gladden, left, speaks with Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, at an April strike. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

More than 40 Capitol food service workers are requesting a meeting with Pope Francis when he visits the Hill on Sept. 24.  

"We look forward to welcoming you to our workplace and request the opportunity to meet with you," the workers wrote in a letter. "We want you to know that even though we serve the wealthy and the powerful in the Congress, we earn so little that we live in utter poverty." Among the signatories to the letter, which will be sent to the pope's staff at the Vatican, as well as to his ambassador in the District of Columbia, were familiar names from the Senate and Capitol Visitor Center who have participated in three strikes over the past 10 months and written about their experiences in op-eds in The Guardian. One of the signatories was Charles Gladden, the Senate worker who revealed he was homeless in April.  

“The Pope is our hope,” Gladden said in a news release announcing the letter. “If he meets with workers and hears about our struggles to survive on poverty pay, he will tell senators that we deserve a living wage and a union.”  

While he is expected to address a range of policies such as climate change and immigration during his address to Congress, Pope Francis has also placed an emphasis on economic inequality. And the Capitol workers want him to know that inequality persists in the building he will be speaking in.  

"We may be invisible to the wealthy and powerful we serve everyday — but we know we are worthy of a more abundant life as children of God," the workers wrote.  

The food service workers in the Senate and Capitol Visitor Center have been pushing for higher wages and union representation since a handful of CVC workers first went on strike last November. House workers are represented by a union. The Senate and Architect of the Capitol are in the process of renewing the contract with their employer, Restaurant Associates, which expires in December.  

H.E. Archbishop Carlos Maria Vigano, the pope's diplomatic representative in the U.S., did not respond to a request for comment on the letter. However, the pope's schedule, which was announced in late June , is tight.  

Pope Francis is expected to arrive at the Capitol that Thursday morning, address Congress at 10 a.m. and make an an appearance on the West Front afterward. Throughout his U.S. visit, the pope will meet with leaders as well as ordinary people, including members of D.C.'s homeless population and immigrants in New York and Philadelphia.

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