Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Workers on Capitol Hill Strike for a Living Wage

Protesters on Capitol Hill
Protesters on Capitol organized a strike Tuesday afternoon for $15
an hour

Workers on Capitol Hill are protesting to persuade Senator Ted Cruz (R-Tex) to support their desire to make $15 an hour.

Among the strikers are many food service workers struggling to support a family.

These workers are not employees of the federal government but rather a federal contractor. The contractor was negotiating with the Senate Republican leadership and but the workers failed to get the raise to $15 an hour they previously sought.

They decided to target Cruz because he acknowledged that inequality exists. His solution however, is the typical conservative idea to cut taxes and deregulate business which has been shown to worsen inequality.

Why should Cruz care about them? It’s easy to see why he doesn’t. First and foremost, they can’t vote for his re-election. Even in a presidential campaign, most live in a solid blue state. And even if they live in Virginia, they’re not swing voters. People who sympathize with them are likely Democrats anyway.

Statistically speaking, most blue collar workers don’t vote which decreases the amount of attention politicians will pay to them which decreases their incentive to vote.

The strikers probably don’t have the access to sufficient political contributions to sway Cruz to soften his tone or remain neutral, much less support them publicly.

Do they have anything going for them?

However, the strikers are not without assets. They’re also being coordinated by Good Jobs Nation. With this group, the strikers have been able to become well organized and connected to powerful allies. Nowadays non-unionized workers don’t usually strike and get to come to work the next day. It’s also notable they allied with some religious ministers, which can persuade the devout.

Furthermore, their current strategy of a public strike has proven effective in the past. Striking is an effective way to secure press coverage. These strikers are wearing identical shirts and Santa hats which plays well to the camera. Based on the media narrative, press can make the other side look bad and thus willing to concede.

They’re also in a good position because they work in the Capitol Building complex and not the boondocks. So the national limelight is easier to secure. In addition, sympathetic U.S. Senators have endorsed their efforts. Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders also spoke at one of their rallies earlier this year. Because the issue has been getting so much press recently, it’s logical Democratic Senators from blue states would support the issue.

Furthermore, the strikers possess very good emotional stories opposed to academics that try to get people to spring to action based on statistics. Because the death of one is a tragedy. The death of a million is a statistic.

But didn’t they fail in the first place?

The strikers are in a difficult situation, as are most who wish to accomplish something in Congress that wasn’t an issue, such as raising the debt limit.

So what should they do? Since they work on Capitol Hill itself they can’t turn their attention to the city or state level to make progress, as many have done in recent years.

President Obama has already issued an executive order raising the minimum wage for federal contractors to $10.10 an hour. It’s unlikely he’ll issue another one to raise it even further.

Good Jobs Nation along with their allies could persuade a Senator to filibuster the issue and clog the progress of business in the Senate. Their issue could be linked to the issue of underpaid workers throughout the United States.

But what would this accomplish? Good press coverage certainly. Given the nature of Congress, it’s unlikely the Republican leadership will concede.

The other side has all the assets you need win. They’re a business and creating jobs. Everyone loves a job-creating business. Plus, they can argue paying their employees less saves taxpayers’ money. That resonates. In addition, they can afford to hire a lobbyist, donate money, and persuade allies in the industry to help them.

How could the strikers ever win?

The contractors has little incentive to concede to their employees who are unskilled workers in a nation with a high supply of labor. Their food preparation and customer service skills are easily taught to replacements.

And they’re thoroughly insulated from the strikers. They’re not going to see them at a civic meeting or next Sunday at church. Their children don’t play together on the school team. It’s more likely the company’s owners and management are based far from where the workers live.

Between the conservatives, the labor market, the nature of their positions, and the state of many issues, these workers won’t see $15 an hour until they’ll need $20 an hour to get by.