U.S. Capitol low-wage workers to Pope Francis: 'let's talk'

by Vinnie Rotondaro

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In two weeks’ time, Pope Francis will come to Washington, D.C., to meet with some of the world’s most powerful leaders. Today, in anticipation of that visit, he received an invitation to dialogue from the working class folks who serve them. 

Written by people “who cook and clean at the U.S. Capitol and other federal buildings,” the low-wage federal contractors that “look forward” to welcoming the pope to their “workplace,” the letter states: “We want you to know that even though we serve the wealthy and the powerful in the Congress, we earn so little that we live in utter poverty.”

“We sleep on the streets because we cannot pay the rent,” they write

We go to bed hungry because we can’t put food on the table. 

We endure sickness because we cannot afford health care. 

We earn so little that we sacrifice our dignity to support our kids. 

We work such long hours that our unborn babies have died.

“We may be invisible to the wealthy and powerful we serve everyday -- but we know we are worthy of a more abundant life as children of God,” the letter reads. 

The letter was signed by some 40 low-wage workers organizing under the banner of Good Jobs Nation, a coalition of about 20 labor, faith and D.C. area community groups that is “generating considerable attention from government officials,” according to the Washington Post.

Paco Fabian, a spokesperson for Good Jobs Nation, said that low-wage federal workers “have now held more than a dozen strikes over the last two years, calling on this president and Congress to guarantee that jobs funded with tax payer dollars, i.e. federal contract jobs, are good jobs that pay living wages, provide benefits and allow their workers a voice.”

One of the signers of the letter, Sontia Bailey, a cashier in the U.S. Capitol who suffered a miscarriage due to overwork, told NCR, “I work 70 hours a week, I just lost my child. It’s time for us to get a living wage.” 

Bailey, who has been working in the Capitol for two years and nine months, said she would like to hug Pope Francis if the meeting takes place.

“I know he supports us,” she said, adding that a meeting with the pope might “open up the eyes of the Republican Senators to see, you know, ‘Well, the pope supports [low wage workers], so why can’t we?’”

A press release from Good Jobs Nation includes statements from other signers. 

“So far, our pleas have gone unanswered,” said James Powell, a chef in the Senate Dining Room who has experienced homelessness, “so maybe a higher power can help us.”

“The Pope is our hope,” said Charles Gladden, a U.S. Senate cafeteria worker who also experienced homelessness. “If he meets with workers and hears about our struggles to survive on poverty pay, he will tell Senators that we deserve a living wage and a union.” 

According to Fabian, the letter has been sent to Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the Apostolic Nuncio of the Holy See to the United States. 

[Vinnie Rotondaro is NCR national correspondent. His email address is vrotondaro@ncronline.org.]

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