Charles Gladden has held his current job for eight years. The 63 year old sweeps floors, cleans dishes and mops bathrooms. His take-home pay is about $360 a week and he is currently homeless, moving between shelters and occasionally a Metro stop next to the White House.
Bertrand Olotara is a college graduate and a single father. After being laid off, he now earns $12 an hour as a cook and has a second job which often means he works up to 70 hours a week. Despite these two jobs, he is eligible for food stamps that help him feed his family.
These stories of America’s working poor aren’t anything new, but you may be surprised to learn where they work: the United States Senate. When the Senate privatized food service in their cafeterias and dining rooms, formerly living-wage jobs were converted into poverty-level positions through for-profit contractors like Restaurant Associates and Compass Group.
At In the Public Interest we’ve heard this story before. Low-road contractors are using our tax dollars to enrich their shareholders and fuel income inequality across the country.
Fortunately, people like Charles and Bertrand are standing up and calling on President Obama to sign an executive order that leverages the federal government’s buying power to invest in good paying jobs that help families reach and stay in the middle class. The men and women serving our Senators and maintaining our public institutions deserve more than the minimum wage, they deserve decent benefits, employment protections and the right to organize, and they deserve respect.
When government contractors spend our tax dollars to pay poverty-level wages, we make up the difference by paying for food stamp programs and shelters. The federal government, like state and municipal governments, should give preference to high-road contractors and ensure we aren’t paying for a race to the bottom. It’s what workers and taxpayers deserve.