As Pope Francis Arrives in DC, Federal Workers Strike Against Poverty Wages

Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders was among those who joined federal workers in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday as they rallied to leverage the much-anticipated arrival of Pope Francis as a way to lift their ongoing campaign for better wages and treatment.

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As Ned Resnikoff reports for Al-Jazeera:

Sanders attended the rally and offerd his continued support to the workers’ campaign.

“In my view, when we talk about morality and when we talk about justice we have to understand that there is no justice when so few have so much, while so many have so little,” Sanders told the workers. “The time has come for President Obama and the U.S. Senate to end this injustice by requiring all contract workers to be paid at least $15 an hour with the right to form a union. The time has come to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.”

In a letter (pdf) addressed to Pope Francis, who arrives Tuesday for a five-day U.S. visit, the workers invited the head of the Catholic Church to meet with them so he could better understand the plight of workers who may “cook and clean at the U.S. Capitol and other federal buildings,” but remain trapped in “utter poverty” due to their low-wages and inability to form a union.

“We may be invisible to the wealthy and powerful we serve everyday—but we know we are worthy of a more abundant life as children of God,” the letter stated. “That’s why we are joining with other low-wage workers across America who are fighting to provide a decent life for ourselves and our families. As you prepare to meet with the Congress and President, we hope that you will also take a little time to meet with us and listen to our stories.”


Charles Gladden, a 63-year-old worker who signed the letter and spoke with Resnikoff, explained the workers’ call for a “$15 minimum wage and a union” is just a start and expressed optimism that if the Pope—who has voiced his compassion for the world’s poor workers and contempt for income inequality—takes up their concerns with lawmakers and Obama, it could give the ongoing fight a needed breakthrough.

“For [Pope Francis] to speak and mention Good Jobs Nation and the Senate workers directly to Congress, that would be an even bigger plus,” Gladden said. “Because we’re all fighting for the same thing.”

In an op-ed that appeared in the Guardian on Monday evening, James Powell, another federal worker involved in the effort, explained how difficult his life has become even though he is gainfully employed by the federal government at the U.S. Capitol:

Though not all lawmakers in Congress are Catholics, Powell acknowledged, many of them are and many others identify as Christians or people of faith.

Perhaps, he said, Pope Francis will take the opportunity to remind U.S. lawmakers of the “their moral obligation to help the ‘least of these'” in society.

“The truth,” Powell concluded, “is that the pope may be the only person who can broker a bipartisan solution to inequality at the US Capitol and help low-wage workers. That’s why the pope may be our only hope.”

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