Labor group defends workers at military bases against right wing attacks

WASHINGTON – Good Jobs Nation, the leading supporter and organizer of fast food workers’ nationwide campaign for decent pay, benefits and the right to organize, is defending the Obama administration’s future pay hike for those workers at the nation’s military post exchanges (PXs) against an attack by congressional right wingers.

The pay hike would start Jan. 1 under new contracts that fast food firms would sign with the military to have restaurants such as McDonald’s, KFC and Burger King at PXs, where military personnel and families buy food and goods at reduced rates.

The 40 right wing lawmakers, led by House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline, R-Minn., and Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., want to stop the pay hike, which also includes decent benefits, such as health care coverage. Wilson, who initiated the anti-pay raise move, is notorious for rudely calling the president – out loud – a liar during Obama’s comments on health care in the president’s 2009 State of the Union address.

Kline, Wilson and 38 GOP colleagues wrote on April 10 to Labor Secretary Thomas Perez, demanding he dump the PXs from Obama’s executive order. Obama’s order would raise the minimum wage for fast-food workers, under future contracts, to $10.10 hourly, from $7.25. With benefits, which the workers now lack, total compensation would be about $14 hourly. The increase would benefit tens of thousands of PX fast food workers.

The Republicans contend fast food providers cannot afford to pay the workers a decent wage and benefits because their contracts with the PXs bar them from passing on the increased costs to consumers – military personnel and their families. That would lead the fast-food concessionaires to close their restaurants at PXs, the lawmakers allege.

Good Jobs Nation Policy Director George Faraday told The Fiscal Times that the lawmakers are wrong. “The specter of mass layoffs being raised is an illusion. If they care about the welfare of military spouses” – many of whom now work at the fast-food restaurants in PXs – “they should care about whether military spouses are making a living wage.”

Several lawmakers, led by Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., have also gone to bat for the fast-food workers at the PXs, in an op-ed in The Huffington Post. And the right-wingers aren’t the only ones writing to Perez about the fast-food workers. The Congressional Progressive Caucus weighed in on the issue, too, in an April 2 letter. It told Perez fast-food contractors at all federal facilities – not just PXs-routinely engage in wage theft against their workers, even at the present minimum wage.

“Without stronger wage theft enforcement, these wage increases and overtime protections could be at risk. If federal contractors failed to comply with wage and hour laws when the minimum wage was $7.25, they may be more likely to ignore the new minimum wage of $10.10 as well as the new overtime regulations,” it said. “Recent studies indicate that federal contractors are among America’s worst perpetrators of wage theft.” The caucus cited a Senate report showing DOL had to levy 32 percent of its wage theft fines against the contractors.

Photo: In Oakland, fast food workers rally vs. poverty wages.  Marilyn Bechtel/PW



Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.