Smithsonian Museum’s Low-Wage Workforce Walks Out In Protest

Visitors to D.C.’s Smithsonian museums Thursday will get educated on a subject they likely aren’t expecting: low-wage worker exploitation by companies that contract with the federal government. Service employees at the museums are going on strike to protest unlivable wages and wage theft, the third such walkout by contracted employees at federal buildings in the nation’s capital since May.

Thursday’s planned actions include a bit of performance art. “[A]ctors playing Ronald McDonald and Uncle Sam will climb into bed together” outside the Air and Space Museum, according to the Washington Post. Workers are referencing the fact that the federal government supports more low-wage jobs than McDonald’s and Walmart combined, according to research by the think tank Demos. The report found that “nearly two million private sector employees working on behalf of America earn wages too low to support a family.”

The prior D.C. walkouts targeted the city’s train station and the Ronald Reagan Building, the largest employer of federally-contracted service workers and the target of a Department of Labor investigation into alleged wage theft and other worker abuses.

The DC protests are part of a low-wage protest movement that’s gone national in recent months. Private sector retail and fast food workers in St. Louis, Milwaukee, Detroit, Chicago, Seattle, and New York City have gone on strike in recent months to demand livable wages.


Progressive members of Congress have proposed increasing the federal minimum wage, with legislation that would go further than President Obama’s call for a $9 minimum hourly rate earlier this year. The current $7.25 hourly minimum has less buying power than the minimum wage did in 1978, and the majority of the jobs gained in the recovery have been in low-wage industries.