WASHINGTON (AP) – Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is rallying for an increase in pay for low-wage workers at his day-job workplace — the Senate.
Speaking in the rain in a park outside the Senate on Tuesday, Sanders urged a group of a hundred or more striking and protesting workers to keep up their fight. The event was scheduled on the day of the Republican presidential debate to highlight what Sanders says is the divide between Democrats and Republicans on the issue.
Some of the protesters work in the Senate and were taking the day to strike. One woman who works in a Senate cafeteria spoke in Spanish about not having enough money to buy medicine for her sick child.
Sanders, the Vermont independent, said the workers should make at least $15 an hour and have the right to unionize.
"There are a number of senators who get served by people right here," Sanders told the wet, cheering crowd. "They should know that if you are serving them, they have got to start serving you."
Warner Massey, an employee of a Senate contractor who cleans entranceways and bathrooms in the Capitol complex, said he makes $13.50 an hour but wants to make at least $15. Others he works with make less.
"This is really crazy because of the simple fact that we work for millionaires," Massey said. "These guys are millionaires, they make the laws, they make the rules and regulations. So why is it so hard for us to get just $15 and be part of a union?"
Some food workers in the Capitol make as little as $11 an hour, and have no work during congressional recesses. In April, dozens of Capitol food workers briefly walked off the job to protest their pay and working conditions.
In June, the House changed contractors for its several cafeterias and other food vendors. The new provider, Sodexo, promised to retain qualified workers amid widespread debate about their pay and work conditions.
Maryland-based Sodexo will replace New York-based Restaurant Associates, which has held the House food service contract since 2007. Restaurant Associates still runs the cafeterias in the Capitol Visitors Center and Senate buildings.