Federally contracted workers at two Smithsonian eateries have gone on strike, demanding a living wage. The workers, all employed by McDonald's Corp. and Restaurant Associates, are asking President Obama to ensure that employees of federally funded museums receive better pay. The workers are represented by Good Jobs Nation, a workers' rights group that advocates for employees of private companies contracted by federal offices. Through contracts with private employers, the federal government is the largest employer of low-wage employees in the nation, according to the organization's homepage. (Update: Smithsonian spokesperson Linda St. Thomas wrote in an email that all museum restaurants were fully staffed on Thursday, and that "restaurant managers reported that no one walked off the job." NBC News reports that people walked off the job, however.) On the strike, the organization had this to say in a statement:
These low-wage workers are part of an invisible army of 2 million workers employed by private businesses that serves the American public by greeting visitors and selling memorabilia at the Smithsonian Museums, working in the food courts at government buildings like Union Station and the Ronald Reagan Building, driving trucks hauling federally-owned loads, and making military uniforms for our troops.
The workers also have launched a formal complaint with the Labor Department, claiming that their employers paid them below minimum wage and failed to pay them for overtime. Today's protest was also scheduled to include a "performance piece," wherein Ronald McDonald and Uncle Sam hop into bed together. (Get it?)
The strike comes one day after the D.C. Council voted 8-5 to approve the Large Retailers Accountability Act, a law that requires certain retailers earning more than $1 billion in revenue to pay a minimum wage of $12.50. Some large retailers were very, very against this, but none were as vocal as Walmart, which threatened to halt all plans on future stores if the bill passed. The D.C. Council was not impressed by these threats. After the vote passed, Walmart more or less told D.C. "fine, be that way":
Nothing has changed from our perspective: we will not pursue Skyland, Capitol Gateway, and New York Avenue and will start to review the financial and legal implications on the three stores already under construction. This was a difficult decision for us - and unfortunate news for most D.C. residents - but the Council has forced our hand.
LRAA won't be law unless D.C. Mayor Vince Gray signs it into law, so Walmart could possibly hold off on the dramatic statements. But then again, this whole thing got out of hand a while ago.
(Photo via NBC Washington.)