Pope Francis's Sept. 24 visit to the Capitol has become a rallying point for Democrats, Republicans -- and, now, the workers who cook and clean for them.
More than 40 of the contract workers who have been seeking higher wages and better benefits are requesting a meeting with the pope, telling him in a letter Thursday "that even though we serve the wealthy and the powerful in the Congress, we earn so little that we live in utter poverty."
The signers include Charles Gladden, a 63-year-old Senate cafeteria worker who was homeless for five years while working his low-wage job until his story was publicized earlier this year. They also include Sontia Bailey, a cashier at a Capitol coffeeshop who has described working a second fast-food job that pays better than her Senate wage and having to return to work quickly after a recent miscarriage in order to make ends meet.
While his efforts to create a more transparent and welcoming Catholic Church have garnered the most attention, Francis has made the plight of the global poor the centerpiece of his papacy, and that theme is widely expected to be reflected in his address to Congress. "Human beings and nature must not be at the service of money," he said in a July address in Bolivia. "Let us say no to an economy of exclusion and inequality, where money rules, rather than service."
The Senate workers, who are employed by contractor Restaurant Associates, have pressed for better wages and conditions in recent months with the help of union-backed organizers. Their efforts come as the Senate renegotiates its contract with Restaurant Associates; Democratic senators -- including some who supported the privatization of food services in 2008 -- are pushing for better wages and benefits.
"We sleep on the streets because we cannot pay the rent," the workers' letter reads. "We go to bed hungry because we can’t put food on the table. We endure sickness because we cannot afford health care. ... 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."
Gladden, in a statement released by organizers at Good Jobs Nation, said, "The Pope is our hope.”
"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," he said.