Federal Workers Face Retaliation For Walkout Over Poverty Wages

Dave Johnson

Last week, in “Government Sweatshops: A Time for the President to Act,” Robert Borosage wrote about federal government contract employees working for poverty wages:

This week in Washington, hundreds of low wage federal government contract workers walked off their jobs, demonstrating for a living wage and a union. They included Senate janitors and food service workers – the workers who serve the senators their food and clean up the messes they leave.

… The sad reality is that the United States government remains the country’s largest low-wage job creator. All those senators tramping through New Hampshire promising to rebuild the middle class are part of a Congress that doesn’t pay the workers who serve them enough to lift a family out of poverty.

Borosage singled out Kellie Duckett,

…a 30-year-old food service worker at the Capitol Visitor’s Center, was one of the protestors. Paid about $11 an hour, she is forced to live with a parent, rely on Medicaid and food stamps, while still struggling to afford school uniforms and supplies for her two children. Most of the people striking, she said, “have children that they have to think about.”

Now Comes Retaliation

Now Duckett and a co-worker appear to be suffering retaliation for their participation in that strike. Roll Call has the story, “CVC Workers Allege Retaliation After Strike (Video)“:

“When I went into work on Thursday I was being harassed,” CVC cashier Kellie Duckett, 30, said in a Tuesday phone interview. “[The manager] cut my hours, she cut me and a co-worker’s hours, she was just pretty much following me around Thursday. And Friday is when she took me in her office and she threatened my job.”

On April 24, the advocacy group Good Jobs Nation filed the complaint to the National Labor Relations Board on behalf of Duckett and fellow CVC cafeteria worker Tracy Allen. The complaint is filed against Restaurant Associates, which employes the food service contract workers in the Capitol complex.

… She said after the strike, her manager threatened to cut Duckett’s job “come layoff time” because Duckett was “walking around talking to people.” Duckett also said co-workers told her Tamariz was telling other employees that Duckett and Allen were not reliable.

Good Jobs Nation has filed a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) complaint against Restaurant Associates, the contractor at the Capital Visitors Center. The complaint alleged discrimination and retaliation against employees for “protected activities” by permanently removing a day from their weekly schedules and giving those hours to employees who did not join the strike, making them work more than their assigned shifts without prior notice, imposing new “onerous” duties on them and giving them (only them) new work rules (like requiring them not to use cell phones or drink sodas while on break) and new strict enforcement of work rules on them but not the others. Restaurant Associates has also, since the strike, accused them of “being unreliable.”

The complaint also alleges that Restaurant Associates has ordered employees not to speak with representatives of Good Jobs Nation while on break.

These are all violations of the protection that employees are supposed to have in the U.S. But this is happening in the nation’s capital.

President Obama could help fix this with an executive order requiring federal contractors to pay “more than the minimum” of $15 an hour and allowing these federal contractors to unionize. Borosage wrote:

Time for Obama to Step Up

In his State of the Union address, President Obama emphasized the importance of unions: “To give working families a fair shot… we still need laws that strengthen rather than weaken unions and give American workers a voice.”

But with Republicans in control, there is no hope of congressional action. Obama has shown he will to act on his own when Congress fails the country: “I’ve got a pen, and I’ve got a phone. And that’s all I need,” he said in 2014. “Because with a pen, I can take executive actions.”

The president is now planning action to revise and enforce overtime laws. Obama has claimed that his trade policies are focused on enforcing labor rights in our trading partners. That might gain more credibility were he to act to enforce them at home.

He should use his pen to curtail the federal government’s support of sweatshop labor. Tens of thousands of low-wage workers walked out in the Fight for $15 demonstrations in over200 cities across the country last week, in the largest demonstrations of low-wage workers in memory. The janitors and food service workers at federal buildings and monuments are asking from the White House only what their fellow fast food and low-wage workers in the private sector are demanding from private firms: $15 an hour and union rights.

Government should lead in building the middle class, not join in the race to the bottom. This is a cause the president should lead. It is time to act.

Contracting Out Does Not “Save” Money, It Costs Money

Privatizing government jobs has been popular thanks to claims that private businesses are “more efficient” and “save money.” The problem is the way they save money is by getting rid of all the employees who are paid an OK amount and get benefits with minimum wage employees who get no benefits. The result is more and more of our citizens in poverty, relying on the government “safety net,” losing their homes, cutting back to zero on spending, etc. this has a devastating effect on their communities, schools, local businesses, etc.

Last year in, “How Government ‘Contracting Out’ Drives Up Costs, Pushes Down Workers” I wrote about a study by In The Public Interest called “Race to the Bottom: How Outsourcing Public Services Rewards Corporations and Punishes the Middle Class,” that said privatization of government services “contributes to the decline of the middle class and the rise in poverty-level jobs, thereby exacerbating growing economic inequality.”

Privatization hasn’t worked. The federal and state and local governments that engaged in this practice need to look around and see the suffering, poverty and increases costs they have caused.

Government should lead in building the middle class, not join in the race to the bottom. This is a cause the president should lead. It is time to act.

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