WASHINGTON – 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.
Each party is doing its best to control the political optics of a new House panel that will be investigating Planned Parenthood. That includes Republicans naming a woman as chairman, and Democrats countering by making a female their leader on the panel.
According to the House Historian’s Office, it’s only the second time women have held the two top spots on a House committee. As far as the historians know, the only other occurrence was for several years in the 1960s and 1970s, when two women led the Select Committee on the House Beauty Shop.
Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., is chairing the new committee investigating Planned Parenthood. Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois is the lead Democrat.
In addition, half the eight Republicans on the panel are women, as are five of its six Democratic members. With the investigation focusing on issues like abortion and women’s health care, each party wanted to be sure to avoid a perception of an insensitive, male-dominated panel throwing its weight around.
Even the panel’s name is the subject of a partisan spin war.
Blackburn has been calling it the Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives. Democrats have referred to it as the Select Committee to Attack Women’s Health.
The House resolution that created the panel simply called it a Select Investigative Panel of the Committee on Energy and Commerce.
The Republican-run House created the committee last month in response to a conservative uproar over Planned Parenthood’s provision of tissue from aborted fetuses to researchers.
Several other congressional committees have also been investigating Planned Parenthood since anti-abortion activists released videos they secretly recorded showing the organization’s officials discussing fetal tissue donation.
Abortion foes say they think the group broke laws barring for-profit sales of such tissue, while Planned Parenthood says it’s done nothing illegal.