Why we need a Good Jobs Nation

Every year, I serve thousands of tourists and residents of the Washington, D.C., area who are visiting the Air and Space Museum, one of the most popular attractions maintained by the federal government.
 
But this week, I went on strike, and I’d like to tell you why.
 
Visitors to my museum can see how human flight has developed over the years, including exploration of the moon.
 
What they don’t see is that they are also visiting the nation’s capital of poverty wages paid by corporate federal contractors that make huge profits off taxpayer dollars.
 
Although I provide a service on behalf of the federal government, my actual employer is McDonald’s. It has the contract to provide food service in the Air and Space Museum and many other federal facilities.
 
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McDonald’s made $5.5 billion in profits in 2011, a 130 percent increase in profits over four years. Its CEO made nearly $14 million in 2012 — more than three times higher than the year before. Other companies like Burger King, the Compass Group, and Maersk that share in the $446.5 billion the government gives contractors each year take home enormous profits as well.
 
Yet these contractors pay nearly two million of us poverty wages below $12 an hour, not because they can’t afford more — they can meet our strike demand today and pay use better wages and benefits — but because the government allows them to get away with it.
 
I’m 53 years old. I support a son and help my daughter with her children. For what I do on behalf of the federal government, McDonald’s pays me $8.33 an hour and provides only part-time hours and no benefits.
 
Every pay period, I have to decide how much I can pay on which bill because I can’t possibly cover all the necessities like rent, food, electricity, water, gas, phone, and transportation on that income. Like me, two million other workers doing work on behalf of the federal government across America face the same difficult choices.
 
In fact, the federal government is the largest low-wage job creator in the country, through  contractors, who are contributing to the steady destruction of good jobs for people like me. The experts tell us we’re having an “economic recovery,” but nearly three out of five jobs gained since it began pay low wages.
 
When corporations make big profits by not paying living wages, they are taking money out of our communities where it is needed to support other jobs and local businesses. That’s one big reason why profits and executive pay are rising fast but jobs are not coming back.
 
Millions of low-wage workers end up needing food stamps or going to costly emergency rooms when their family needs healthcare. So taxpayers subsidize low-wage contractors in many hidden ways.
 
On Tuesday, hundreds of us who get only low wages from federal contractors decided to conduct a one-day strike. We wanted to send a message to President Obama that it’s time to stand up for working people and our communities. We need him to make sure federal contractors pay a living wage and respect our right to join together and have a voice on the job.
 
My co-workers and I have been inspired by the strikes of other American workers who have been standing up for better jobs at Wal-Mart, McDonald's and other fast-food chains. With the support of members of Congress, faith leaders and community groups, we decided to form Good Jobs Nation, an organization of workers joining together for a living wage and rights on the job.
 
Striking is certainly not something I’m used to. I just want to do my job and take home a paycheck.
 
But that paycheck doesn’t support my family. It hasn’t in a long time. I can barely afford rent, groceries and medications. And it’s time to do something about it.
 
There are millions of us who feel the same way. I just hope the president, our elected officials and the companies we work for are listening.
 
With a stroke of a pen, Obama can require that federal contractors pay a living wage and respect workers’ rights. This in turn would help lift the economy and benefit families, taxpayers and communities. I look forward to the day when all Americans can come visit our capital and be proud that we are becoming a good jobs nation.
 

Roseboro works at the Air and Space Museum in Washington DC and is a member of Good Jobs Nation, an organization of low-wage workers for federal contractors.