Policy

Federal Contract Workers 'Refuse to Be Silenced'

Fight for higher wages and union rights reaches Labor Department

Rep. Keith Ellison, center, addresses federal contract workers protesting outside the Labor Department on Thursday. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Federal contract workers — from Capitol Hill to the Smithsonian to the Pentagon — joined a legion of protesters in Washington this week, bringing their fight for an increased minimum wage to the steps of the Department of Labor.  

Holding posters of President Barack Obama that read “Worker champ” and chanting “15 and a union,” hundreds of food service workers, janitors and landscapers congregated on Constitution Avenue on Thursday to urge the next Democratic president to increase the minimum wage to $15.  

They also called for the creation of a union.  

Anthony Thomas said he worked cleaning the Dirksen Senate Office Building, but had been denied a promotion for participating in strikes. He said a union would help advocate on his behalf.  

“I refuse to be silenced,” Thomas said. “I’m fighting to give my son a shot at the American Dream.”  

Workers are urging the Democratic candidates for president to continue Obama’s legacy of supporting an increased minimum wage nationwide, and to take his increase of $10.10 an hour for federal contract workers further to $15.  

Food service workers on Capitol Hill have gone on strike roughly a half-dozen times since November 2014 to push for higher wages and the creation of a union that would cover federal contract employees. Past efforts to from a union have met resistance.  

In January, many came forward to allege “wage theft” by their contractor after some said their jobs were reclassified to make them ineligible for substantial wage increases included in a contract renegotiated in December .  

On Thursday, some of those same workers were joined by contract workers in the executive branch including those who work at Union Station, the National Zoo, the Pentagon and the Smithsonian.  

Members of Congress also chimed in with Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill. and Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn. on hand to support the fight.  

“We need to go further, and we can,” Schakowsky said.  

Contact Rahman at remarahman@cqrollcall.com or follow her on Twitter at @remawriter Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.