It must be extremely difficult to keep your head up under such circumstances. Monday through Friday, for eight hours a day, you work hard to make sure that everyone has a healthy, hearty meal. After all, they all have very important work to do. So every day, you cut, chop, slice, brew, cook, clean, buff, and scrub. The problem, however, is that you can barely feed your own family. And you feel like your employers don’t even care. Well, you are not alone.
The food service workers and janitors who serve U.S. Senators told MarketWatch that they were “fed up with low pay and being ignored by the powerful people they serve”. That’s why they joined the “Fight for 15,” the labor union-backed movement to increase the nation’s minimum wage to $15 an hour. One of the protestors, a cook who works at the U.S. Senate cafeteria, Bertrand Olotara had contributed to an op-ed in the British newspaper The Guardian Wednesday that depicted his life in “poverty” and how his American dream had become a “nightmare”.
“I’m a single father and I only make $12 an hour; I had to take a second job at a grocery store to make ends meet,” Olotara told The Guardian. “But even though I work seven days a week – putting in 70 hours between my two jobs – I can’t manage to pay the rent, buy school supplies for my kids or even put food on the table. I hate to admit it, but I have to use food stamps so that my kids don’t go to bed hungry.”
The workers’ decision to join the battle has come at a critical time. After all, the race to secure the country’s top job has already started. By April 18, one Democrat (former U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton) and three Republicans (U.S. Senators Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio) had announced that they were running for their party’s 2016 presidential nomination. Additionally, there is small group of Democrats and about 12 Republicans who are still considering whether or not they should lace up their sneakers and enter the race, says The New York Times.
The question is: how likely or unlikely are these potential presidential candidates to use the fight for equal pay as their platform. In the meantime, here’s an overview of why it might be a good idea for both sides of the aisle to stay away from the senate cafeteria’s famous bean soup, at least until the cooks get a minimum wage increase.
Most people think that it is insane to mess with the people who cook your food.
“Every day, I serve food to some of the most powerful people on earth, including many of the senators who are running for president: I’m a cook for the federal contractor that runs the US Senate cafeteria,” Olotara added. “But today, they’ll have to get their meals from someone else’s hands, because I’m on strike.”
Last week, Olotara joined other Senate janitors and food service workers across the District of Columbia from the Capitol Visitor Center, the Pentagon, Union Station, the National Zoo, and the Smithsonian Institution to unite with more than 1,000 labor protestors for a rally on the West Front of the Capitol. The workers like Olotara, who are federal contractors, staged the protest to call on President Barack Obama to sign a “Model Employer Executive Order” that would give federal contracting preferences to companies that can pay their workers $15 an hour as well as better benefits and collective bargaining rights, according to CQ Roll Call.
“I am walking off my job because I want the presidential hopefuls to know that I live in poverty,” said Olotara. “Many senators canvass the country giving speeches about creating ‘opportunity’ for workers and helping our kids achieve the ‘American dream’ – most don’t seem to notice or care that workers in their own building are struggling to survive.”
Unfortunately, says CQ Roll Call, a presidential executive order would not help the nearly 2,500 contract workers in the legislative branch. But the low-wage workers like Olotara have cooked up a better strategy: speak directly to the 2016 presidential contenders.
“I am walking off my job because I want the presidential hopefuls to know that I live in poverty,” Olotara wrote. “American voters should ask themselves: if presidential candidates won’t help the workers who serve them every day, will they really help the millions of low-wage American workers who they don’t know or see?”
So are any national politicians paying any attention?
According to The Business Insider, the former governor of Maryland and possible Democratic presidential nominee, Martin O’Malley has already endorsed a $15 minimum wage, and it’s all but certain that other Democrats will soon join the labor-backed movement. In addition, there are a few Republicans who want to show that they too care about inequality in America despite their contradictory policies. In November, minimum wage increase proposals passed by big margins in four Republican states, and GOP Senate candidates Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Dan Sullivan of Alaska both supported state (but not federal) minimum wage increases, according to The Business Insider.
At this point, it would be almost impossible for any of the candidates to hide from the issue. According to the National Employment Law Project, over 63 percent of Americans support a minimum wage increase to $15 over the next five years, and a more modest raise to $12.50 is backed by 75 percent of Americans, including 53 percent of Republicans.
On the other hand, the candidates who are determined to dodge the issue can always pack a brown bag lunch for now on.
Do you think that the strike action will have an effect on the election? Your thoughts and comments below please...