Low-Wage Workers In D.C. Federal Buildings Strike Against Wages

Low-wage service employees at two federal buildings in Washington, DC are walking off the job on Tuesday to call attention to unlivable pay rates and widespread wage theft by federal contractors. It is the second time this year that these workers have tried to pressure the government to require better treatment of workers from its contractors after a previous strike on May 21.

The earlier strike led to 10 of the workers — who get organizing help from a union-backed group called Good Jobs Nation but do not have a union themselves — being fired, as The Nation’s Josh Eidelson reported at the time. The managers in question ultimately backed off, and the workers returned to their jobs at the Ronald Reagan Building. That building is the focus of a Department of Labor investigation prompted by worker complaints of wage and hour violations.

The walkouts follow a May report from Demos that low labor standards among contractors make the federal government a larger low-wage employer than Walmart and McDonald’s combined. “We find that nearly two million private sector employees working on behalf of America earn wages too low to support a family,” the report said.

Congressional action would be necessary for many contractor reforms, the report said, but the Obama administration has substantial authority to improve contractor behavior via executive order. As Eidelson noted Tuesday, however, the administration backed off of a contractor reform executive order proposed in 2010. Later that year, a Government Accountability Office report on labor law violations by federal contractors found that 25 of the largest wage and hour violation assessments levied by the Department of Labor from 2005–2009 had targeted 20 companies that still received federal contracts.