Protestors hold signs of Martin Luther King Jr. as they head towards a rally in front of the Pentagon on Jan. 22. (Jane Herman/Medill News Service)
WASHINGTON — More than 100 Pentagon contract workers carrying posters of Martin Luther King Jr. and singing “We Shall Overcome” picketed outside the building Wednesday to demand that companies doing business with the federal government raise the minimum wage.
The workers want increased wages and improved working conditions for their taxpayer-funded jobs. Legislation to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour is stalled in Congress.
“When I started working here eight years ago I made nine dollars an hour and I still make nine an hour,” said Jerome Hardy, a contracted food server at the Courtyard Café in the Pentagon and a single father. “I work hard to serve American heroes, but I still end up with zero.”
A recent report by Demos, a public policy group that studies ways to improve the economy for middle-class Americans, asserted that the federal government is America’s leading low-wage job creator, funding more than 2 million low-wage jobs.
With President Obama’s State of the Union speech less than a week away, Pentagon workers called on Obama to sign an executive order ensuring that federal government contractors raise wages.
Pentagon contract workers are employed by companies that operate inside the Pentagon, including McDonald’s, Taco Bell and Dunkin’ Donuts.
The job action was part of the Good Jobs Nation campaign, an effort by advocacy groups such as the NAACP and Interfaith Worker Justice to increase the pay of federally contracted workers employed by private companies. While this was the first time the Pentagon workers have walked off their jobs, this is the seventh such action in seven months by contract workers at federal buildings. Other sites included Smithsonian Museums, the Old Post Office and the Ronald Reagan Building.