WASHINGTON- About 60 people marched around the Union Station food court on Wednesday, protesting alleged wage violations in the pay of food service employees.
But even before the demonstration got started, Good Jobs Nation, an organization that advocates for workers’ rights, filed a complaint with the Department of Labor on behalf of the food court workers at the historic train station, challenging their wages.
Employees from seven of the 12 businesses listed in the complaint claim they earn wages lower than the Washington D.C. minimum wage of $8.25 per hour and the federal rate of $7.25 per hour, according to a Good Jobs Nation news release.
The complaint coincides with a larger initiative to call on President Barack Obama to raise minimum wage through his executive power, Joseph Geevarghese, deputy director of Change to Win, said at a news conference.
Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., and co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, stressed the strategy to “pressure the President” to increase minimum wage, using his executive power.
“The minimum wage is already ridiculously low,” Ellison said at the news conference.
But Amy Traub, a senior policy analyst at DEMOS, said Obama cannot raise minimum wage for all American workers. Rather, she said the president can use his executive power to raise the wage level for federal contract employees. There are about 560,000 low-wage jobs contracted through the federal government, according to a recent DEMOS study.
Last March, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, introduced the Fair Minimum Wage Act, which would increase the federal minimum wage of $7.25 to $10.10 over the next two years. The Senate could vote on a minimum wage bill next month.
“Raising the minimum wage may poll well, but having a job that pays $10 an hour is not the American Dream,” Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said in a Jan. 8 news release (http://www.rubio.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/press-releases?ID=958d06fe-16a3-4e8e-b178-664fc10745bf). “And our current government programs, offer at best only a partial solution. They help people deal with poverty, but they do not help them escape it.”
The demonstrators at Union Station included shop and restaurant workers. Others came from Washington worker advocacy groups such as Good Jobs Nation, Change to Win and Our DC.
“Sixty workers and 20 restaurants have suffered serious, deliberate and systematic wage theft,” said Joseph Geevarghese. deputy director of the workers advocacy organization, Change to Win. “In short the complaint alleges federal criminal activity.”
Tibebe Ayele, a worker at China Kitchen restaurant in Union Station, said he could not leave his low-paying job because he did not have better options.
“So I put up with being treated like a slave,” Ayele said. “No one should be treated the way I was.”
“At the end of the day its universal,” said Inocencio Quinones, an organizer for Our DC. “I want to take care of my children. I want to pay my bills. I’ve had aspirations. I want to do something with my life. But if you are making minimum wage or under, you are sentenced to a life of poverty.”