Washington, D.C. – Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) joined Reps. Keith Ellison (D-MN), Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), David Cicilline(D-RI), Judy Chu (D-CA), Jim Moran (D-VA), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Mark Pocan (D-WI), Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) at a hearing today on how the federal government promotes a low-wage economy through federal funding. 

The Members heard directly from workers who are paid under federal contracts, yet are unable to support their families.  One worker, Vilma Martinez, has worked for the Interstate Cleaning Corporation (ICC) at Union Station for 19 years but is still paid $8.75 per hour and is forced to travel to her native El Salvador to get medical treatment.

“Income inequality is a threat to the strength of our middle class, the health of our businesses, the security of our workers, and the growth of our economy,” Leader Pelosi said.  “By shining a light on this critical challenge, the Congressional Progressive Caucus is leading the way toward solutions: to close the wage gap, to raise the minimum wage, to end disparities in education, and to create jobs that pay well, that reward hard work, and that enable our families to make it in America.”

“This hearing demonstrates the Congressional Progressive Caucus’s commitment to ensuring that those facing the toughest economic challenges are not forgotten in Congress” Whip Hoyer said. “These workers’ stories make clear that the current minimum wage is outdated and needs to be raised – something President Obama proposed in his State of the Union address and that I agree ought to be done.” 

“The scandal of needless poverty in this country has to end, and we can help by making sure federal employees and contractors are paid a living wage,” Rep. Grijalva said. “We can’t pay working people the same low wage for twenty years and expect them to buy a house, save for retirement and raise families. Congress and President Obama should step in to help, and that’s why we’re holding today’s hearing.”

“As the beltway focuses on manufactured scandals and he-said-she-said politics, I am so proud that the leaders of the House Democratic Caucus, Leader Nancy Pelosi and Whip Steny Hoyer, are joining with the Congressional Progressive Caucus to find real solutions to the greatest problem facing our country: the jobs crisis and the decline of the middle class,” Rep. Ellison said. “If we want to address income inequality in our country, we should start with our own federal government. It’s time for President Obama to sign an executive order to ensure that everyone who contracts with the government is paid a fair wage.”

There are nearly 2 million stories like Vilma Martinez’s. DEMOS, a Washington think tank, recently released a report that revealed nearly 2 million people who contract with the federal government earn less than $24,000 a year. That is more low-wage workers than any private company, including Wal-Mart and McDonald’s combined. The DEMOS report is the first ever to count these jobs and to detail how contracts from federal funding are contributing to poverty and undermining economic growth.

Congresswoman Norton is leading a letter calling on the White House to use every tool at its disposal, including executive orders, to ensure that workers funded by taxpayer money are paid a living wage.

A coalition of community groups, faith organizations and labor groups recently launched Good Jobs Nation, a new organization of low-wage working Americans joining together for living wages, benefits, and a voice in negotiations. The new organizing effort comes just weeks after strikes in New York City and Chicago by low-wage workers at major fast food and retail chains, including Wal-Mart and McDonald’s.