President Obama has also shown sympathy for the issues of low-wage workers, although the minimum wage increase he's expressly supported -- to $9 an hour -- is still less than what activists usually consider a "living wage."
"I think the president's heart in the right place," Ellison said. "We’ve just got to get his pen on the right place."
Federal contractors employ over a fifth of the American civilian workforce, and more than 560,000 of these workers earn $12 or less an hour, according to Demos, a liberal think tank. Many of them are cleaners and concession workers in federal buildings. If you include all the low-wage jobs funded by public dollars, including the 1.2 million paychecks underwritten by Medicare and Medicaid, the total, Demos found, surpasses the low-wage workforce of Walmart and McDonald’s combined.
Labor group Good Jobs Nation, backed by the Service Employees International Union, organized three smaller building-specific strikes earlier this year, as well as a city-wide labor action in May. It’s part of a larger strategy by unions and labor activists to push for higher wages in the largely non-unionized workforces of retail and fast food. Organizers called Wednesday's event the largest low-wage federal worker strike to date. Both Ellison and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) gave passionate speeches at the event.