CAPITOL HILL —
Pope Francis arrived in Washington Tuesday, launching his much anticipated visit to the United States. Ahead of the pope's meeting at the White House and his speech to Congress, low-wage contract workers who cook and clean for U.S. lawmakers walked off their jobs at the U.S. Capitol, asking for a $15 minimum wage and a union. Some of the workers say they are pinning their hopes on a letter they are sending “the Pope of the Poor.”
As Pope Francis’ airplane approached, President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama and their family were on hand at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington to welcome the head of the Roman Catholic Church to the United States.
A crowd of 1,000 selected ticket holders gave the pontiff an enthusiastic welcome.
Earlier Tuesday, hundreds of low-wage workers at the U.S. Capitol walked off their jobs and rallied at a nearby Catholic church. They said they may be invisible to the powerful lawmakers they serve every day, but they know they deserve a better life. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders was at the church to support them.
“Today as we welcome Pope Francis to the United States and the U.S. Capitol, I hope that every member of Congress and the president will heed his call for social and economic justice,” said Sanders.
One of the service workers is struggling, even though he has a job in the Senate cafeteria.
"Homeless and sleeping on the street, you know, every day you know, I was literally on the streets because I wasn’t making any money. I didn’t have a livable wage, you know and like I said, the few dollars I did make in order for me to keep my hygiene up because I work in food service," said Charles Gladden, a Senate cafeteria worker.
Gladden said this pope gives him new hope.
"I’m saying he’s more adamant about speaking about the low-income people, speaking about social injustice – he speaks about the necessary things that touch the little man,” said Gladden.
Sontia Bailey, one of Gladden’s colleagues, said she works two jobs – 70 hours a week – and that tough schedule likely caused her to lose her son at his birth. She hopes lawmakers listen to the pope’s message.
“Hopefully they find deep down inside that we have got to pay our workers living wages – nobody should have to suffer or go through what I’ve been through,” said Bailey.
Inside the Capitol, Republican Senator John Thune said Pope Francis may have some different opinions on economics.
“We hope there are some things he can take away from visiting our country for the first time: recognizing that free enterprise is the greatest antipoverty force that the world has ever seen,” said Thune.
There is no word on whether Pope Francis will directly respond to the Capitol workers’ letter, but he is expected to address the issue of income inequality when he speaks to Congress Thursday.