U.S. senators and their staff only have to go to the Senate cafeteria to see what is wrong with the low-wage economy, with the workers who serve their meals earning near-poverty wages paid by the subsidiary of a multinational corporation that has blocked efforts by the workers to fight for better wages and working conditions.
Their struggle was made most vivid recently by the story of Charles Gladden, a Senate cafeteria worker who was homeless, earning only about $360 a week.
On Wednesday, some of those staffers made a point of showing that they understand what those workers are struggling with and are standing with them.
Their show of solidarity took the form of a "brown bag boycott," in which they brought their own brown-bag lunches to the cafeteria. Joining the 40 or so Senate staffers who participated in the protest was Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). He promised that the boycott would not be a one-time event.
“We will be here every Wednesday until you are treated fairly,” said Brown.
Senate cafeteria workers have been doing battle with the federal contractor for Senate food services, Restaurant Associates, for several years for a $15-an-hour wage and the right to collective bargaining. They have staged one-day strikes and protests to ratchet up the pressure.
Last week two of the cafeteria workers wrote an op-ed in The Hill newspaper to outline their struggle, including the efforts by Restaurant Associates to thwart their worker organizing efforts.
"Since we started organizing, we’ve been relentlessly harassed and intimidated by our bosses. Managers have threatened to fire us, questioned us about our organizing efforts, cut our hours, changed our schedules, increased our workloads, and ordered us not to speak with union organizers," wrote Betrand Olotara and Luz Villatoro.
In addition to a $15 wage, "we are demanding a free and fair organizing process just like the one Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is proposing in his Workplace Democracy Act," they wrote. "Instead of going through a sham election, we should be able to join a union by just signing a union membership card."
People can show support for the Senate cafeteria workers by signing this petition to "help Senate cafeteria workers form a union to bargain for a living wage."