Pentagon contract workers strike over low pay

One of the nation's largest employers faces a work stoppage by employees seeking higher pay: The Pentagon. 

Roughly 50 food court and janitorial workers at the U.S. Department Department went on strike Wednesday to demand a hike in their hourly wage. Strikes targeting federal facilities in Washington were also planned at Washington's Union Station, Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum, the Old Post Office Building and the Ronald Reagan Building. 

  The protests, led by labor advocacy group Good Jobs Nation and backed by a coalition of union, social welfare and religious organizations -- including the Teamsters, United Food and Commercial Workers, NAACP and Interfaith Worker Justice -- seek to draw attention to what the groups say is unfairly low pay for employees of federal contractors that provide food and cleaning services.

Even as the Obama administration and lawmakers in Congress press for a higher federal minimum wage, the government has faced criticism over the relatively low wages that many federal contractors in Washington pay. At food courts in government buildings, for instance, many workers earn around $9 an hour.

The Good Jobs Nation coalition has reportedly used tactics that include employee walkouts and civil disobedience. Last summer, the group filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor alleging that eight franchise owners had ignored rules on overtime compensation and paid employees before current federal minimum wage levels of $7.25 per hour.

According to a living wage calculator designed by MIT researchers, a living wage for a single person in Washington is $13.68 an hour. The minimum wage in the nation's capital is $8.25 an hour. A "typical hourly rate" for food preparation and serving related workers in the area amounts to $11.31 an hour. A poverty wage for a single parent with two children would be $8.80 an hour. 

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    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.