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Federal contract workers protest for seat at the table

By Caroline Cataldo, Medill News Service   |   July 30, 2014 at 7:13 PM  |  Updated July 31, 2014 at 10:06 AM

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WASHINGTON, July 30 (UPI) -- More than 100 federal contract workers and their families protested in front of Union Station Tuesday, telling morning commuters, Congress and the president they want the right to unionize.

The protestors were low- wage workers hired by private contractors to toil in federal buildings, serving food, cleaning, and doing similar jobs. They believe a minimum wage hike only begins to get at the core of their problem.

Though President Barack Obama signed an Executive Order to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 in February for federal contract employees, Congress has yet to pass legislation on this topic benefiting all workers.

The worker's chants of "10.10 is not enough" joined with the voices of lawmakers from the Congressional Progressive Congress and also faith leaders promising to stand with the protestors until they are allowed a place at the income negotiation table.

Like many of the employees flooding the streets around Union Station, just north of Capitol Hill, Keyona Dandridge, believes people shouldn't have to protest in order to simply protect their rights. Dandridge is a 21-year-old single mother who works serving food in a federal building. She and her son live with her mother, but still find it hard to make ends meet.

"Growing up in a single-parent home, I had to watch my mother pay bills and bring up three children," Dandridge says. "I made a promise to myself, that when I was old enough to get a job, I would take care of her. I want to keep that promise."

To help Dandridge and others like her, Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., said she would introduce legislation giving low-wage contract workers the right to bargain collectively. Norton calls her bill the ROSIE Act, named after the famous World War II icon, "Rosie the riveter."

Reps. Barbara Lee. D- Calif., and Keith Ellison, D-Minn., co-chairmen of the Progressive Caucus, joined Holmes Norton in her bid to "rescue (the government's) own workers from poverty level wages."

"I don't believe that any federal contractor who does not want to pay people a livable wage deserves a federal contract," Ellison said. "There are enough federal contractors that want to do fair and good by their workers. We don't have to stick with the crooked ones."

Though seven workers and five religious leaders were ticketed at the protest after crowds blocked cars from driving on the busy roadways outside the station, the demonstrators continued to rally for their cause.

"When families have more money, they spend it and that helps our economy," said Lee as she called on the president to take action. "It is time we support American workers and there is no better place to start than with federal contractors."

© 2014 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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