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National push for $15 minimum wage hits home for U.S. Senate workers

By Mike DeBonis

“Errol Baker left his job at the Washington Hilton in 2004 after 12 years to pursue what he thought would be a better life working at the U.S. Capitol. ‘I thought I was going to be working in a better environment,” he said. “I’d get to meet senators and congressmen and movie stars. I was very excited.’ Baker, 52, has brushed shoulders with the famous and the powerful in his years as a Senate food service worker — once, for instance, he received a $20 tip from then-Sen. Barack Obama — but he is otherwise no better off. Unable to make ends meet on his $11.30 hourly wage, he now cleans offices for five hours at night after his eight-hour Capitol shift ends. It’s nearly midnight before he comes home to his D.C. apartment, hoping to catch a few hours of sleep before he reports to the Senate for his morning shift.  Baker is among a group of federal contract workers who are joining with union-backed advocates to call on lawmakers to do more to protect an increasingly privatized federal workforce, where low wages and minimal benefits often clash with the rhetoric espoused by elected leaders. ‘We work for them every day,’ Baker said. ‘They have a clean environment; they’ve got good food to eat. They say, ‘Thank you very much’ and ‘Good work.’ But that’s not enough. I need more so I can pay my bills. . . . $15 and a union.’”

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