Today, Senate cafeteria workers and janitors walked out of their jobs, striking to demand better wages than the pittance they receive for serving the most dysfunctional Congresses our nation has ever seen. Their protest on the lawn makes for a striking contrast with the self-congratulating heard from our Republican Senators today, who were very proud at accomplishing what the Washington Post described as “the legislative equivalent of tying their shoes”.
The struggle of workers on the Hill is painfully illustrated by an scathing letter published in the Guardian by Bertrand Olotara, who struggles to raise his child with $12 an hour, a second job, and food stamps- and it’s still not enough. A college graduate and former teacher who lost his job to the Great Recession, he now is stuck in low-paying service industry jobs, at the mercy of a multinational corporation based in the UK which could care less for his personal welfare. Olotara writes that as the government renegotiates the contract with his employer, Compass Group, that “no-one bothered to check if the company that makes billions in profits is paying workers a living wage and offering decent benefits so we don’t have to use public aid programs to meet our basic needs. We the workers sure have an opinion when it comes to federal contract renewals – but no one cared enough to ask us.”
His story is shared by millions of Americans whose livelihoods are playthings in the hands of giant corporations, who exploit food and monetary assistance programs to avoid paying their workers a fair wage, while reaping the profits. Dewana Samuel, a Senate janitor, says she has been working for the same company for ten years and still only makes $11.83 an hour, not nearly enough to cover her expenses, let alone live comfortably. The idea that a person could devote ten years of service to a company and never see any kind of reward or raise is just astonishing, and truly illustrates the awful situation that American labor has found itself in.
The workers have asked President Obama to help them via executive order, because they know all too well that no respite will come from the Republican Congress, who have sold their souls and integrity to millionaires and their pernicious interests. The President recently announced an executive order forcing businesses to pay overtime to salaried managers, who are often forced to work 70 or more hours a week for the same pay, and we can only hope that he will listen to the beleaguered workers on the Hill.
Low wages and the exploitation of the overtime rule are rampant across America, especially in the food service industry, which inherently requires long hours of psychological and physically demanding. The refusal of Republicans to pass any kind of minimum wage increase, which has been stagnant for decades, or do anything at all to help America’s middle class, whose incomes are still not up to pre-recession levels, is just appalling. The GOP Senators enjoy their $174,000 salaries while accomplishing nothing but cutting taxes for the rich and limp-wristed attempts to repeal Obamacare for the fortieth time. For all their empty propaganda showboating the American Dream, the Republican Party has done nothing but turn it to a nightmare, and we can only hope that President Obama will do what’s right for his nation and his people.
Colin Taylor is the editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.