WASHINGTON, D.C .— Daquan Jackson was supposed to be at work at 7 a.m. on Wednesday. By late morning, he should have been grilling the large amounts of chicken and steak required to feed customers during the lunchtime rush at the Qdoba Mexican restaurant in the Pentagon.
Instead, Jackson joined roughly 400 other federal contract workers and low-wage employees with Good Jobs Nation striking outside the U.S. Capitol in support of new legislation that would raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour over the course of the next seven years.
“It feels good,” said Jackson, a 22-year-old father of a three week old baby, to ThinkProgress about being on the lawn outside the Capitol instead of behind the grill. “I ain’t got to bust nothing or work too hard today, sweat today.”
Jackson said he makes just $10 an hour. Though he has been able to squeeze by on that wage, he said he worries that the recent birth of his baby will make it harder to stretch his paycheck.
“I want more. I want $14 or $15 an hour,” he said. “That would change my life a lot. I could feed my family… Milk ain’t cheap.”
On Wednesday morning, Democratic lawmakers in both the House and Senate came together to introduce a bill that would raise the minimum wage across the entire country to $15 an hour. Until recently, the party was splintered over what wage to support, with many including Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Rep. Robert Scott (D-VA) holding out at just $12 an hour.
Over the last few years, the Fight for 15 movement has fought to increase awareness about the need for $15 an hour. The group has staged a series of increasingly larger strikes and has pressured lawmakers to advocate $15 an hour at the state and federal levels.
The Raise the Wage Act unveiled Wednesday — as Republicans in Congress prepare to lower taxes on the wealthy and potentially shut down the government over the budget — shows that Democrats are now united under the same goal.
Murray, who two years ago was pushing for $12 an hour, spoke publicly in favor of $15 on Wednesday.
“As hard as President Trump tries to stack the deck against our workers, we need to keep fighting back, we need to keep pushing forward, and reaching even further to support our working families across the country,” she said to the crowds of workers wearing blue Good Jobs Nation shirts and holding cardboard signs. “I believe we need a $15 federal minimum wage.”
The workers outside the Capitol also highlighted the problems with Trump’s priorities, chanting “raise wages, not walls.” Ana Gomez Ramirez, a DACA recipient and a federal contract worker at the U.S. Senate, spoke about how she left family in El Salvador to seek safety in the United States.
“I have been working to support my three daughters and my husband who is very sick with kidney failure,” she said. “I have one question: what would my daughters do if their mother is deported?… If I could tell something, it will be, Mr. President, raise wages not walls. Immigrant workers are not criminals. We are just like everyone else. We work really hard. We want to achieve our dreams. And we want to make a better life for our children.”
Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI), first vice chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, pointed out during the strike that contrary to what many Americans think, 90 percent of people making minimum wage are more than 20 years old. For 55 percent them, it’s their full-time job. And 44 percent have some kind of degree.
Jason Kimelman-Block, a rabbi and the director of Bend the Arc Jewish Action, spoke to the workers about the moral and ethical reasons to support a higher wage.
“We’re working to build a society where human dignity is upheld, and when people are working at poverty wages, not allowed to organize on the job, then it seriously compromised their dignity,” he told ThinkProgress. “The inequality we see in our society now, we think it’s a moral crisis. We have to do a lot of things to combat the rising inequality, but this is one very concrete thing we can do.”
As the strike took place, the White House announced it would push for what it’s calling the largest tax cuts in U.S. history. The proposal would benefit the top wage earners. While Kimelman-Block said its important for people to resist Republicans’ actions, its equally important for Democrats to present a plan that would actually benefit working Americans.
“It’s not just about resisting what’s happening, but showing an alternative, a clear, positive way forward, and showing what the government can do to help so many people who are suffering right now,” he said.