Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) threw down the gauntlet for Congress and President Obama Tuesday morning, joining hundreds of low-wage contract workers from federal buildings who are striking in advance of Pope Francisâ€™ visit to Washington, D.C.
Speaking to the assembled workers at a nearby Catholic Church, Sanders urged U.S. lawmakers to take seriously the pontiffâ€™s message on â€śsocial and economic justice.â€ť He also challenged President Obama to sign an executive order raising the wage for federal contractors to at least $15 an hour and allowing them to unionize.
â€śThere is no justice in America when the largest low-wage employer is not McDonalds, it is not Burger King, it is not Wal-Mart, it is the United States government,â€ť heÂ toldÂ the cheering crowd. â€śThe United States government has got to become a model employer.â€ť
SandersÂ toldÂ The HillÂ that as â€śone of the great moral forces on earth today,â€ť any statement by the Pope on the issue of wealth inequality during his trip to D.C. would be influential.
The rallied workers later marched to the steps of the Capitol,Â where they held a prayer service asking for lawmakers to listen to the Popeâ€™s words.Â Some workers also organized a brief sit-in at the Senate cafes.
The strike, organized by Good Jobs Nation, had been planned as early asÂ last weekÂ to coincide with the Popeâ€™s visit, whose various statements on inequality, neoliberalism and economic justice have pegged him as an ally of the labor movement. Striking workers had written a letter to Pope Francis asking him to meet with them in addition to those in power.
â€śWe may be invisible to the wealthy and powerful we serve everydayâ€”but we know we are worthy of a more abundant life as children of God,â€ť the letterÂ reads.
Although President Obama granted federal contractors a wage increase to $10.10 in February 2014, the workers charge this is not enough in a city that, according toÂ one study, requires a salary of $108,092 to live â€ścomfortablyâ€ť in.Â ReportsÂ aboundÂ of cleaners and cooks resorting toÂ food stamps, working second jobs and even going homeless as a result.Â CriticsÂ chargeÂ that the federal government bears large responsibility for this by awarding hundreds of billions of dollars in contracts, grants, loans and more to companies that payÂ low wages and offer no benefits.
According to aÂ reportÂ from Demos, nearly 2 million federal contractors currently make less than $12 an hour, far less than MITâ€™s calculated living wage for D.C. of $20.27.Â At the same time, according financial data analyzed by OpenSecrets.org, the median net worth of U.S. lawmakersÂ climbed to over $1 million.
This BlogÂ originally appeared on In These Times on September 22, 2015. Reprinted here with permission.
About the Author:Â Branko MarceticÂ is a Fall 2015 In These Times editorial intern.