PC(USA) Office of Public Witness joins striking federal contract workers to protest low wages

Rev. J. Herbert Nelson and workers urge president to 'Fight for $15'

April 22, 2015

Rev. J. Herbert Nelson speaks at a news conference with striking federal contract workers in Washington, urging the president to raise wages to $15 an hour.

Rev. J. Herbert Nelson speaks at a news conference with striking federal contract workers in Washington, urging the president to raise wages to $15 an hour. —Leslie Woods

Washington, D.C.

The Rev. J. Herbert Nelson, director of public witness for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Washington Office, and other religious leaders joined striking U.S. Senate contract janitors and food service workers to urge President Obama to support efforts to raise wages. Hundreds walked off their jobs to protest low wages and benefits. They’ve joined striking workers from the U.S. Capitol, Smithsonian Institution and other federal landmarks where private companies receive lucrative contracts to run food, janitorial and other services.

The workers are asking the president to support the “Fight for $15” movement and sign the Model Employer Executive Order that gives preferences to federal contractors who pay at least $15 an hour and provide benefits that include paid leave. The workers are also seeking collective bargaining rights.

The federal contracting process awards contracts to the lowest bidder, making the U.S. government the largest low-wage job creator in the country, funding more than two million poverty-level jobs through contracts, loans and grants to private businesses, according to Good Jobs Nation, an organization of federal contract workers. The organization argues that taxpayer dollars should create good jobs that pay livable wages, benefits, paid sick leave and dignity in the workplace.

This is the twelfth time in two years contract workers have gone on strike. During that time, President Obama announced he would sign executive orders raising the minimum wage to $10.10. Private companies like The Gap, McDonalds, Wal-Mart and IKEA followed with announcements to raise starting pay in several cities. But federal contract workers say they need more than minimum wage to survive.

“Our nation cannot boast of being the land of the free, while allowing companies to pay wages that enslave its citizens to debt, poverty and an inability to provide a decent living for themselves, their children and generations to come,” said Nelson, speaking at a news conference with striking workers. “The workers who we stand with represent the hopes of current and prospective students, parents, children, spouses and grandparents. They represent a lifeline of hope not only for themselves, but others who depend on them to assist their dreams, hopes and future possibilities.”

Nelson and other religious leaders wrote a letter to the president encouraging him to do more to pull the workers and their families out of increasing cycles of poverty and low wages. “We believe every person is a child of God, that God wants shalom, that is, peace and wholeness for each of us, and that there is inherent dignity in work and the fruits of labor. Our nation generates great abundance yet only a few among us share in the bounty. This growing gap between the wealthy and everyone else is not only a political issue, but also a moral one that we are compelled by conscience to address.”

The complete letter and list of signatures and Nelson's full remarks are available on the Office of Public Witness blog.

  1. How hard is it to understand that raising the minimum wage, which was never considered to be more than a basis for a entry level job, will actually cost jobs. Yes, Walmart has raised its minimum to $10 an hour, but friends I know are having their schedules adjusted as the managers are still required to keep their labor costs within a certain percentage of their sales. Evidently that number was not adjusted to compensate for the wage increase. Money does not fall out of the sky, for every increase in one cost, there has to either be a decrease in another area, or an increase in prices, which then leads to other economic problems. Once again, the PC(USA) is again sticking its nose into areas of which it has no comprehension. Frankly, the culture of which the denomination is becoming indistinguishable from really doesn't care what the PC(USA) has to say as any organized religion is now considered irrelevant.

    by Reformed Catholic

    April 23, 2015

  2. Nelson is right on target in asking the President to raise contract workers' salary to $15, a matter of justice and a way of helping our whole economy through its impact. In addition, Nelson is acting on the basis of General Assembly policy.

    by Belle McMaster

    April 23, 2015

  3. Rev. Nelson apparently does not understand the definition of slavery, judging by his use of the word. A more apt analogy to slavery can be found in the U.S. welfare system, which creates dependency, destroys the family structure and de-humanizes recipients.

    by Todd Capitano

    April 23, 2015

  4. I am wondering by what revelation of wisdom Rev. Nelson and his colleagues determined that $15 per hour for federal contractor employees is appropriate, and from whence he will take the money from elsewhere in the federal budget to pay same, and all those other questions that apparently were not covered in his seminary education

    by (Rev.) John A. Johnson

    April 22, 2015