U.S. Capitol workers, others strike for higher pay, union

By John Clarke
Storm clouds approach the U.S. Capitol dome during a day of rain in Washington November 6, 2014. REUTERS/Gary Cameron

By John Clarke

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Hundreds of striking federal contract workers, including for the first time some from the U.S. Capitol, rallied on Thursday to urge President Barack Obama to boost pay and spur unionization.

About 800 striking workers and supporters, including members of Congress, gathered at the Capitol after a march through Washington streets led by a brass band.

The one-day strike by federal contract workers was the 10th organized by the Good Jobs Nation campaign for better pay and benefits since May 2013.

"For the first time in history, workers are on strike at the United States Capitol," rally organizer Joseph Geervarghese told the cheering crowd.

"They don't let people like us in the White House. So we have to protest the rich from the outside."

About two dozen cafeteria workers from the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center joined striking employees from the Smithsonian museums, the Pentagon and other sites, organizers said.

Marchers carried signs saying "Workers need more than the minimum" and "Working women on strike," and chanted, "Mr. President, finish the job." Some protesters wore bandannas over their faces to protect themselves from possible retribution by employers.

The protesters wanted Obama to order improved pay and benefits for federal contract workers. The president has approved $10.10 an hour for workers on new contracts starting in January and has ordered better compliance on contracts but the demonstrators said that was not enough.

"We want more than minimum wage. Who wants a minimum anything? Do you want a minimum marriage?" Representative Keith Ellison, a Democrat from Minnesota, said at the rally. He said 70 members of Congress supported the strike.

The strikers and Good Jobs Nation want a presidential order that would give contract preference to companies that pay at least $15 an hour, provide benefits and allow collective bargaining.

The national minimum wage is $7.25 an hour and Republicans in Congress have blocked Obama's proposal to raise it to $10.10. Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia had minimum pay above the federal level as of Aug. 1, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Voters in Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota last week approved minimum wage increases, and Illinois voters approved an advisory measure, the Conference said.

(Additional reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Bill Trott)