WASHINGTON | Delano Wingfield, 22, has been grilling up food and cleaning dishes at Roti Mediterranean Grill in Washington D.C.’s Union Station for almost a year. Struggling to get by on $9 an hour, he started encouraging coworkers to strike with him. His manager found out, he said, and slashed his hours.
“It was hard with 35 hours, and now I don’t know what I’m about to do with the 20 hours they gave me,” he said Wednesday. “I’m out here to make myself and everyone else more money.” (Wingfield’s manager did not respond to a request for comment.)
Wingfield was one of as many as 175 workers, according to organizers, who took part in a Wednesday strike in Washington planned by union-backed groups, and he's among an army of thousands of low-wage workers who have gone on one-day strikes in the last year. But unlike Walmart and fast-food workers who have also taken to the streets for better wages, Wingfield is not targeting his bosses, or Roti's corporate headquarters. He’s after President Obama.
Union Station is a federal building, which makes Roti a federal contractor. The president, by executive order, can set the standards of those contracts, including a stipulation that they pay employees what organizers call a “living wage.”
“Look, President Johnson back in the '60s said, if you want a federal contract, you cannot discriminate,” Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) told America Tonight at the rally, where he gave a speech in support of the workers. He was referring to the executive order Johnson signed in 1965 that forced federal contractors to ensure that employees wouldn't be treated differently because of their race.
“Today we need to say, ‘If you want a federal contract, you’ve got to pay a responsible wage that allows hard-working Americans to make it.’”
For labor activists, this is a way to circumvent a Republican-controlled Congress that’s unlikely to raise the minimum wage. Gay rights activists have taken up the same strategy in the last year, urging the president to ban federal contractors from discriminating against gays and lesbians, after more than 20 years of a more-sweeping anti-discrimination bill floundering on the House floor.