Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Make Federal Jobs Into Good Jobs

Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Public Witness Director the Reverend J. Herbert Nelson Joins Hundreds of Striking Low-Wage Federal Contract Workers Calling on President Obama to Lead the Growing “Fight for $15” Movement

U.S. Federal Contract Workers Strike for to
Ask President to Sign Model Employer Executive Order   

Washington, DC – On Wednesday at 10am, the Reverend J. Herbert Nelson, Director of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Public Witness, joined U.S. Senate contract janitors and food service workers, who for the first time in history, walked off their jobs to protest poverty pay.   

The U.S Senate contract employees joined hundreds of striking workers from the U.S. Capitol, Pentagon, Smithsonian Institution and other federal landmarks, where private companies receive lucrative contracts to run food service, provide janitorial services, and much more.

Reverend Nelson and several other faith leaders joined with workers to call on President Obama to lead by example and champion the growing “Fight for 15” movement by signing Model Employer Executive Order that gives a preference to federal contractors who pay living wages of at least $15 an hour, provide decent benefits like paid leave, and allow them to collectively bargain so they need not go on strike to be heard.  

In his opening remarks, J. Herbert Nelson called for the President to make federal contract jobs good jobs. He called for fairness in our labor market – “The fairness that I speak of today is not about simply earning enough to make a living, but instead enough to build a life worth living – and a legacy to leave behind.”

Presbyterians can join with Reverend Nelson in standing with low-wage workers and against poverty wages. Click here to write a letter to the President.

Today, the federal contracting process awards contracts to the lowest bidder, making the government the largest low-wage job creator in the country, funding over 2 million poverty jobs through contracts, loans, and grants to private businesses. Taxpayer dollars should create good jobs that pay workers livable wages, provide benefits, paid sick leave, and dignity in the workplace. We know from past movements that Executive Orders related to federal contract hiring can lead the marketplace, creating a tide that lifts all workers and builds a stronger economy.

This will be the twelfth strike in two years by low-wage contract workers who are organizing under the banner of Good Jobs Nation. This is the second time in a year that Reverend Nelson has walked with these workers.  In response to previous strikes and Congressional gridlock, President Obama declared he would “lead by example” by signing executive orders to boost the minimum wage to $10.10 and end wage theft on federal contracts. In the wake of the President’s orders last year, the CEOs of private companies like The Gap, IKEA, McDonalds and Wal-Mart announced that they too would hike starting pay and several cities passed ordinances to end wage theft. 

However, just like the thousands of fast food worker who are calling for better pay, benefits, and working conditions, federal contract workers say they need “More than the Minimum” to survive. Even after President Obama’s executive orders, the U.S. Government continues to be America’s largest low-wage job creator. We can do so much better.

Reverend Nelson was joined in his solidarity with low-wage workers by several other religious leaders who wrote in a letter –

Dear Mr. President,

In the faith community, we believe that 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.

As you know, 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. Indeed, it is an affront to human dignity when hardworking men and women are deprived of fully enjoying the fruits of their labor and must struggle simply to feed, clothe and shelter themselves and their children…  

As leaders of faith communities in the United States, we express our gratitude to you for exercising moral leadership by using your executive powers to start lifting low-wage workers out of poverty.   Our faith traditions advocate for justice, and we recognize that your actions provide a firm foundation for rebuilding a more fair and equitable society. 

However, given the scale of human suffering caused by poverty jobs, we urge you to do even more to aid our nation’s most vulnerable workers by promoting living wage and benefit standards on federal contracts with the power of your pen.  We believe that if you lead on this, our economy and labor market will once again follow your lead.

We therefore call on you to issue a “Model Employer Executive Order” that provides a contracting preference for companies that pay living wages of at least $15 an hour, offer good benefits and paid-time off for sickness and care-giving, provide full-time hours and predictable work schedules, as well as promote the rights of workers to bargain collectively so they do not need to strike to have their voices heard.  

For the complete letter and list of signatures, please visit the Office of Public Witness blog.

To read J. Herbert Nelson’s remarks, as prepared, please visit the Office of Public Witness blog here.

Click here to view the video of J. Herbert Nelson’s remarks.


Parts of this article are excerpted from a Media Advisory published by Good Jobs Nation, an organization of low-wage federal contract workers who are calling on the President to end the U.S. Government’s role as America’s leading low-wage job creator. Good Jobs Nation is supported by national faith, labor and advocacy organizations including Change to Win, Interfaith Worker Justice, Progressive Congress, and the Campaign for America’s Future.   Learn more at