Faith leaders on Capitol Hill, who have been urging lawmakers to take care of those who clean their offices and cook their meals, are happy with the Senate’s mid-December decision to raise the pay for government contract workers. The Senate workers won a new raise to a minimum of $14.50 an hour; good news as Christmas approached.
Faith leaders, including the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, director of the PC(USA) Office of Public Witness, were instrumental in advocating for the pay hike, urging the federal government to do more for contract workers who are barely making ends meet.
“We are thankful for the support of Presbyterians who responded to action alerts; contacting their senators and advocating for government contract and other low wage workers on the local level,” said Nelson. “The struggle for economic justice on both Capitol Hill and local communities is not over, however the senate vote is a significant step in the right direction.”
Nelson said the vote signals that the church’s voice is heard when there is compassion and persistence in efforts to impact social change. “We are thankful to God through Jesus Christ that our prophetic voice was heard and workers can celebrate a significant coming of the Lord during this Advent/Christmas Season.”
The agreement, while seen as positive, does not meet the full demands of workers who had asked for a $15 minimum wage and the right to collective bargaining.
Recently, Nelson joined federal contract workers who walked off their jobs for a day to pressure decision makers to raise their pay. Workers from the Capitol, Pentagon and other federal landmarks donned Santa hats and Grinch costumes as they walked to the Dirksen Senate cafeteria.
Nelson and the Rev. Sekinah Hamlin, Aundreia Alexander and Leslie Copland Tune led the workers in prayer and presented a letter to the Restaurants Association management. From there, the group marched to Sen. Ted Cruz’s office to present him with a “Golden Grinch Award.”
In a written message to lawmakers, Nelson and Hamlin, director of the Ecumenical Poverty Initiative, said the holidays would not be easy for contract workers.
“These contract workers–who labor diligently inside the U.S. Capitol and Senate–will be relying on food stamps to prepare their holiday meals and using Section 8 vouchers to avoid spending Christmas Eve on the streets,” the letter stated. “On December 6th, our nation marked the 150thanniversary of the ratification of the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery. Ironically, a significant number of today’s federal contract workers find themselves having to fight to put an end to the financial bondage they are experiencing as a direct result of the low wages they are receiving, along with the lack of benefits.”
The letter went on to say those in power should “resist greed and share” what they have with those who go without the basic necessities of life.
Over the past 12 months, low-wage federal workers have walked off the job five times to strike for better wages and conditions.