ARLINGTON, Va. - Low-wage workers at the focus of the nation's defense machine, the Pentagon, joined the lengthening list of ill-paid fed-up workers who have walked off their jobs for a day, demanding living wages and the right to organize.
The group gathered Jan. 22 outside the Pentagon's Metro subway entrance, just above the underground mall of fast food eateries and shops, to make their voices heard.
Good Jobs Nation organized the Pentagon worker walkout, following their fast-food colleagues who work at eateries at the Smithsonian Institution and other D.C.-area buildings. Contractors, hired by the federal government, employ the workers. Workers demand Democratic President Barack Obama sign an executive order mandating contractors pay the workers a living wage as a condition of running the eateries.
The fast food workers at the Pentagon and elsewhere, including D.C., New York, Chicago, Detroit and L.A., are part of a larger movement of low-paid workers - Walmart workers, warehouse workers, etc. - demanding living wages and worker rights.
"I haven't received a raise in the nine years I've worked at the Pentagon," Jerome Hardy, who earns $9 an hour as a server at the Courtyard Cafe in the Pentagon, told Good Jobs Nation. "I serve heroes, but my raises amount to zeros."
A National Employment Law Project study found 77 percent of fast-food workers in D.C., including those at federal eateries, earn under $10 an hour. Four out of every ten rely on public assistance, such as food stamps, rent subsidies and Medicaid, to survive.
"To add insult to injury, not only do these taxpayer-supported companies pay poverty wages but they also rank among the worst labor law violators in the country, according to a recent Senate report," Good Jobs Nation adds.
Whether Obama is listening and will issue the order to relieve the plight of the fast food workers and the 2.2 million other low-paid contract workers at federal sites is another matter. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., directly raised the issue with the president months ago. Obama said he would "look into it," in the congressman's words.
When Ellison publically confronted the head of Obama's Council of Economic Advisers with the same demand earlier in January, the official ducked Ellison's question.
Meanwhile, a new Economic Policy Institute study shows the demographic profile of low-wage workers, including fast food workers, has drastically changed. In 1968, 48 percent of low-wage workers had a high school degree, but 79 percent did in 2012, and another 12 percent had a GED diploma. One of every six low-wage workers had college experience - up to and including graduation - in 1968. In 2012, 45.7 percent did.