Reverend J. Herbert Nelson Joins Hundreds of Striking Low-Wage Federal Contract Workers to Welcome Pope Francis and Call for a Living Wage
Washington DC- On Tuesday at 10:30 am, the Reverend J. Herbert Nelson, Director of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) Office of PublicWitness, joined federal contract workers who walked off their jobs to protest poverty pay and to welcome Pope Francis and his commitment to economic justice and the working poor.
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. Today, the federal government awards contracts to the lowest bidder, making the government the largest low-wage job creator in the country, funding over 2 million low wage 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.
Of the Prayer Action, Reverend Nelson said:
"It is imperative that we challenge our government to be an example of valuing all work by paying these government contract workers a wage that keeps them out of poverty. It is shameful that our elected officials lack the will to raise wages for these workers who clean their offices and serve their food. I am standing with these workers on behalf of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assembly, because the Church is called to affirm the worth and dignity of people in the workforce. People should be paid a livable wage for the work that they do."
Reverend Nelson was joined in his solidarity with low-wage workers by several other religious leaders who lifted up the struggle of Senate workers who feed our elected representatives but must feed their children with food stamps. Reverend Michael Livingston, Executive Minister of Riverside Church said he was “honored and humbled to pray and stand with striking government workers who serve our senators and congress persons and who yet don’t make enough money to support themselves and their families.” Jim Winkler, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches echoed that sentiment in saying “this is a wonderful welcome for the Pope. Our prayer is that he will lift up the plight of workers and that he’ll become aware of the situation facing low wage federal workers. We wish to thank him for his teachings on economic justice.”
This strike is part of a new labor movement, a movement that is made up of low wage service sector workers, and a movement with new tactics. 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. Federal jobs should be good jobs, and the momentum around Pope Francis’s visit can help build the political will to make those good jobs a reality.