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Workers and legislators demand President Obama sign an executive order raising the minimum wage for federal contractor employees.
CROWD: We can’t survive on eight twenty-five!
JESSICA DESVARIEUX, CAPITOL HILL CORRESPONDENT: Eight twenty-five is currently the minimum wage for federally contracted employees in D.C. Workers like 54-year-old Melissa Roseboro are making around that, and she says it’s simply not enough to live on.
Melissa works part-time as a cook for McDonald’s at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington. And the conditions have gotten so bad that she says she can’t even pay her bills.
MELISSA ROSEBORO, LOW-WAGE WORKER: You know, a lot of people out here, we are struggling day to day [incompr.] homeless. I even have to go try to [incompr.] just to make ends meet.
DESVARIEUX: Workers are calling for help from President Obama, demanding the president sign an executive order mandating government contractors to pay a higher wage, similar to how President Johnson signed an executive order in 1965 mandating government contractors not discriminate against prospective employees based on race.
Fast forward almost 50 years and the fight for fair pay continues.
CROWD: We can’t survive on eight twenty-five!
DESVARIEUX: Many are barely surviving, and taxpayers are the ones subsidizing this low-wage economy, according to a study by public policy organization Demos. Data shows that hundreds of billions of public funds go to private companies that pay low wages. There are more than half a million low-wage private sector jobs funded by federal contracts. Demos found that government contracts support almost two million low-wage jobs. That’s more than McDonald’s and Walmart combined.
But not all federal contract employees fit into this category. Executive pay can be as high as $760,000 a year. And a new report from Demos shows that nearly $24 billion a year goes to paying salaries of federal contractor executives.
Now a group of senators and congressmen have called on President Obama to step in and sign an executive order to raise the minimum wage to a living wage. Of those calling for higher pay was independent senator Bernie Sanders from Vermont.
BERNIE SANDERS, U.S. SENATOR (I-VT): Most of the new jobs being created in this country today are part-time jobs. They are low-wage jobs. And we have got to get a handle not only on unemployment, not only on income and wealth inequality; we have got to get a handle on raising wages throughout this country so that workers do not depend upon starvation wages.
The Real News also spoke with Democratic Congressman Keith Ellison and asked why there hasn’t be more progress on the bill for a higher minimum wage or the executive order, considering the proposal was sent in July.
KEITH ELLISON, U.S. REPRESENTATIVE (D-MN): But we haven’t seen the president put pen to paper and sign the executive order, even working on the people who work for federal contractors. And we believe it’s time to do that. We’ve got 49 members of the House who agree that the president needs to sign an executive order. And we believe that he should do it and he should do it now.
Now, somebody asked: well, why hasn’t he done it? You know, I specifically asked him that question directly. He told me it was under advisement. I hope that he’s working on it. And, of course, the naysayers might say, well, it has budgetary implications; with the sequester maybe it might be tough. And there might be reasons, but I’m telling you that this is a fight worth having.
DESVARIEUX: President Obama has said in the past that no American should work full-time and live in poverty. And today protestors are making sure that he’s keeping his word. Several of them were invited into the White House to speak to officials about their day-to-day struggles.
ROSEBORO: When you go to tell your story, then, you know, they are really amazed. But I do know this much, that they know that it’s a lot of us out here. You know. And I don’t know why I actually say they are amazed, because we’re–it’s a lot of us out here. You know, it’s not our first time doing this, even though we’re doing this the first time at the White House.
DESVARIEUX: Melissa and several other low-wage workers fighting with the group Good Jobs Nation wrapped up their meeting with officials from the White House. While there, they presented letters and a petition with 250,000 signatures calling for a higher pay.
Melissa says she remains hopeful that the change that she voted for by electing President Obama will one day come.
For The Real News Network, Jessica Desvarieux, Washington.
DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.