A cook who serves U.S. Senators in the Senate cafeteria walked out Wednesday and penned a blistering editorial published in The Guardian, that highlighted the low wages he receives while he serves some of the world’s most powerful people. Bertrand Olotara’s op-ed not only cited his poor rate of pay, but he also called into question a lot of campaign rhetoric that implies that people who work hard and play by the rules will get ahead. Olatara described his plight with these words:
Every day, I serve food to some of the most powerful people on earth – including many of the senators who are running for president: I’m a cook for the federal contractor that runs the US Senate cafeteria. But today, they’ll have to get their meals from someone else’s hands, because I’m on strike.
I am walking off my job because I want the presidential hopefuls to know that I live in poverty. Many senators canvas the country giving speeches about creating “opportunity” for workers and helping our kids achieve the “American dream” – most don’t seem to notice or care that workers in their own building are struggling to survive.
I’m a single father and I only make $12 an hour; I had to take a second job at a grocery store to make ends meet. But even though I work seven days a week – putting in 70 hours between my two jobs – I can’t manage to pay the rent, buy school supplies for my kids or even put food on the table. I hate to admit it, but I have to use food stamps so that my kids don’t go to bed hungry.
Olatara continued by noting that he worked hard, played by the rules, and even obtained a college education. He then mentioned that his foreign-based employer, Compass Group, had renewed its contract with the U.S government, despite the fact that the multinational company does not pay a living wage.
Olatara then added, that he and many of his co-workers were going on strike to make sure that federal contracts are awarded to companies that pay a living wage, offer benefits like paid leave, and allow collective bargaining, so that workers don’t have to strike in order to be heard.
U.S. Senators earn a minimum salary of 174,000 dollars a year, plus additional money to cover expenses for food, lodging and travel. Most of them were independently wealthy before they entered the Senate. It shouldn’t be too much to ask that the employees serving these men and women of wealth and power, at least be paid enough money to cover their rent and put food on the table at home. The U.S. government should only award federal contracts to companies that pay American workers a living wage.
While U.S. Senators will probably find it inconvenient that the Senate cook is out on strike, their discomfort pales in comparison to the pain felt by workers all across America, who work two or three jobs to try to make ends meet because their employers fail to pay a living wage. Hopefully this strike will not just draw attention to the plight of low-wage workers, but also that it will lead to substantive change. Then perhaps the Senate cook can not only continue to feed U.S. Senators, but he can also feed his own family as well.
Keith Brekhus is a progressive American who currently resides in Red Lodge, Montana. He is co-host for the Liberal Fix radio show. He holds a Master’s Degree in Sociology from the University of Missouri. In 2002, he ran for Congress as a Green Party candidate in the state of Missouri. In 2014, he worked as a field organizer for Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick’s successful re-election bid in Arizona’s 1st Congressional District. He can be followed on Twitter @keithbrekhus or on Facebook.