Army of New Rosie the Riveters on Strike in Nation’s Capital

Washington, DC – Today, hundreds of low-wage federal contract workers working for fifty companies doing business at federal sites – like the National Zoo, Pentagon and Union Station – walked off their jobs today. Led by an army of working women dressed like Rosie the Riveter, they marched through the Smithsonian National Zoo, where workers are joining the Good Jobs Nation campaign for the first time. This is the 8th strike by low-wage federal contract workers in the past year.

These New Rosies are calling on President Obama to allow them to collectively bargain, so they don’t need to keep striking to win living wages, health care, and paid time off to care for their families.

“I’m 61 years-old and I have worked here close to three years,” said Joanne Kenon, a worker at the Smithsonian National Zoo. “I make only $9.80 an hour and I live with my sister and her husband because I cannot afford to live on my own. I have diabetes, and if I didn’t have medical insurance through the state, I couldn’t afford my medication. I don’t think I can ever afford to retire.”

As White House Summit on Working Families gathers today to discuss the challenges faced by low-wage women, a new report reveals that the U.S. government is the largest funder of low-wage jobs for women in the private sector. According to the public policy organization Demos, women work in 7 of the 10 low-wage jobs funded by the U.S. Government.

The report calls on the President to go beyond his recent Minimum Wage Executive Order raising the pay of federal contract workers to 10.10 an hour, which will only cover 200,000 workers. By issuing a Good Jobs Executive Order, Demos calculates that the President can put more than 20 million low-wage women, men, and their families on the path to the middle class with the stroke of a pen.

“At the State of the Union, when the President announced he would raise the pay of federal contract workers to $10.10 an hour, he held up Costco as a model employer that is profitable and creates good jobs for America’s workers,” said Ben Peck, Legislative and Policy Associate at Demos. “A Good Jobs Executive Order would basically harness $1.3 Trillion in federal purchasing power to incentivize more companies to follow the Costco business model.”

President Franklin D. Roosevelt took transformative action when army of Rosie the Riveters entered factories to work on federal contracts during the Second World War. Faced with pay discrimination and other abuses, women joined unions in record numbers and waged strikes to demand a say on working conditions and improvements on the factory floor. President Roosevelt listened and used his executive powers over contracting to ensure workers had a seat at the table so that they could bargain with their employers without being forced to strike to be heard.

“There are few other interventions known to improve the prospects for better pay, benefits and workplace flexibility as much as unions do. Anyone who cares about the well-being of women workers and working families should also care about unions,” said Nicole Woo, Domestic Policy Director at the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

“I want thank President Obama for raising my pay to over $10 an hour – but it’s not enough to support my mother and me,” said Jessenia Vega, who works at the McDonald’s inside the Pentagon. “My mother has dialysis and her treatment is very expensive, I am struggling to survive and pay my bills. Women like me work hard every day to serve our heroes in the Pentagon, but we get zero! We get poverty wages, no benefits and face discrimination because we are organizing a union!”

The Demos report,Underwriting Good Jobs,urges the Obama Administration to take bolder executive action to address income inequality. Instead of using taxpayer dollars to fund low-wage jobs that create a drain on the economy, the President could harness federal purchasing power – more than $1.3 trillion annually – to create good jobs in the private sector.

Specifically, the report finds that President Obama could put 8 million workers and their families (21 million people) on the path to the middle class by signing a Good Jobs Executive Order that ensures taxpayer dollars go to companies that:

  • Allow workers to collectively bargain for higher pay and benefits without having to strike to be heard;
  • Provide living wages and benefits;
  • Follow labor and employment laws; and
  • Don’t have outsized CEO salaries.

“Today, all these working women – the New Rosies – are here to ask the President to do more to help contract workers,” said Miguelina De Solano a worker from the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum McDonald’s. “We need flexible scheduling, sick days, paid time-off, and health care benefits to care for our families. We want to be able to form a union and bargain with our employers so we don’t have to keep striking to be heard.”

Good Jobs Nation is an organization of low-wage workers employed by government contractors who are joining together to urge President Obama to use Executive Orders to give them a living wage and a voice on the job. The Good Jobs Nation campaign is supported by a coalition of national faith and advocacy organizations, including the NAACP, Interfaith Worker Justice, Change to Win, and OUR DC.