In a letter sent to the White House on Friday, Sen. Bernie Sanders joined Sen. Elizabeth Warren and other Senate Democrats in urging President Obama to escalate his support for struggling Americans and get behind the 'Fight for $15' movement, which has galvanized low-paid workers across the nation in a collective call for better treatment by employers, the right to unionize, and a living wage.
Asking Obama to go further than his previous endorsement of raising the federal minimum wage from its current $7.25 to $10.10— and praising a previous executive order issued by the president which raised the hourly pay for federal contract workers—the letter said the ongoing plight of workers and their families across the country demands even more bold action.
"Mr. President, the stroke of your pen can have transformative impact for millions of workers," reads the letter (pdf). "As low-wage fast food, retail and federal contract workers continue to strike in growing numbers to 'Fight for $15 and a Union,' we urge you to harness the power of the presidency to help these workers achieve the American Dream."
The letter from the senators argues that the government, like some private sector companies, has a powerful role to play as a "model employer," offering an important example in terms of wages and incentivizing others to improve the treatment of workers across the board. The letter states:
The federal government continues to be America’s largest low-wage job creator, subsidizing poverty-level wages through taxpayer-funded contracts. We urge you to harness the power of the presidency to help workers. To add insult to injury, many of these contract workers are forced to rely on public assistance programs to supplement their meager incomes. [...]
You have held up profitable companies, such as Costco, as examples of model employers to be emulated because they pay their workers living wages and benefits as well as respect their right to organize unions. Now is the time to declare that the federal government will invest our taxpayer dollars to incentivize model employers that commit to creating good jobs and to rebuilding America’s ailing middle class.
Last month, on April 15, labor unions and workers gathered under the 'Fight for $15' banner to stage the largest coordinated day of action yet with strikes, protests, and demonstrations in dozens of cities across the U.S. and around the world.
According to the Huffington Post:
The letter is just the latest indication that the union-backed movement has succeeded in influencing Democratic politics, and not just when it comes to state and local minimum wage laws.
Paco Fabian, a spokesman for Good Jobs Nation, said Democrats looking to run for the White House should take note of Friday's letter, which was signed entirely by Democrats and Sanders, an independent who is also making a bid for the Democratic nomination.
"For the first time a group of U.S. Senators are demonstrating strong support for low wage workers trying to improve their working conditions by proposing a realistic solution," Fabian said in an email. "The federal government's role regarding economic inequality is clear. The question is which candidates for President plan to propose common sense solutions? This letter provides part of the answer."
Read the full letter here (pdf).
In addition to Sen. Warren, the other Democrats who signed the letter are Dick Durbin (Ill.); Richard Blumenthal (Conn.); Edward Markey (Mass.); Mazie Hirono (Hawaii); Debbie Stabenow (Mich.); Ron Wyden (Ore.); Barbara Mikulski (Md.) Al Franken (Minn.); Jeff Merkley (Ore.); Chris Murphy (Conn.); Tammy Baldwin (Wis.); Jack Reed (R.I.); Ben Cardin (Md.); Bob Menendez (N.J.); Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.); and Martin Heinrich (N.M.).