Senate Cafeteria Worker Protests Continue As Sen. Warren Joins

Dave Johnson

Chanting “No justice, no peace,” dozens of federal food service contract workers on Tuesday marched out of the Dirksen Senate Office Building cafeteria and went to stage a sit-in at the office of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas). They also gave the senator a “Golden Grinch” award.

Cruz sits on the Senate committee that oversees the contract under which the Senate cafeteria employees work. The workers, many wearing Santa hats, also staged a sit-in as part of the ongoing effort to gain a $15 wage and the right to unionize.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) showed up at the Senate cafeteria on Wednesday to tell the workers to “KEEP FIGHTING!” Last month Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) joined striking Capitol workers and spoke at a rally (in the rain.)

Dr. Rev. Leslie Copeland of Grace and Race Ministries led a group of faith leaders who joined hands for a prayer at the end of the protest.

ABC reported, in “Striking Federal Contract Workers Stage Capitol Sit-In“:

More than two hundred striking federal contract workers seeking a $15 hourly wage and the right to form a union descended on Capitol Hill Tuesday for a sit-in rally in a Senate cafeteria and protest at Sen. Ted Cruz’s office.

Workers from several federal agencies, including Senate cafeteria worker Sontia Bailey – who recently secured Vice President Biden’s endorsement of the worker movement – rallied in the Dirksen Senate Office Building cafeteria.

Roll Call gives some background to the most recent protest, in the story “Capitol Hill Workers Escalate Protests“:

Over the past year, an increasing number of food service workers in the Senate and Capitol Visitor Center, who are employees of the contractor Restaurant Associates, have been walking off their jobs. The Architect of the Capitol is in the process of renegotiating Restaurant Associates’ contract with the Senate.

… Organizers with a coalition of groups known as Good Jobs Nation organized Tuesday’s strike to call attention to the negotiations, and pointed out that workers have not been a part of the contract discussions. Since Cruz sits on the Rules Committee, and is running for president, workers decided to target his office and urge him to remember them while he works in the Senate and on the campaign trail.

Think Progress, in “Meet The Workers Who Serve The Country’s Leaders But Still Live In Poverty,” explained how the federal outsourcing to low-wage contractors hurts the employees,

One of the workers on strike, Bertrand Olotara, has been a cook in the Dirksen Senate Building for two years. The single father of five kids has two bachelors degrees, one in private law and one in international business administration. Currently, he works two jobs, 70 hours a week, seven days a week. He told ThinkProgress that he gets about a 30 cent wage increase every year.

“I’m here today because we are fighting for $15 an hour, a union, and benefits. But really, we are asking for justice and equality,” he said.

Good Jobs Nation has been trying to help the workers to get decent pay and gain the right to unionize. Their website contains this message from 63-year-old Charles Gladden and includes a link to a Washington Post story about the protests:

I Serve U.S. Senators, but I’m Homeless. Even though I work at the U.S. Senate, I can’t afford to keep a roof over my head. I sleep outside a subway stop, just blocks from the White House.

The truth is that the current President – as well as the people now running for the White House – all walked past me and other low-wage workers who’ve served them in the Senate.

It’s like we’re invisible to them. We need contractors to pay more than the minimum – U.S. Contract workers need living wages, good benefits and a union!

See also at OurFuture.org:

Government Contract Workers Strike For Better Pay

Federal Workers Demand $15 and a Union

Standing In Solidarity With Low-Wage Workers At the U.S. Senate

34 Senators Stand With Senate Cafeteria Workers – And With All Workers

Is Senate Cafeteria Contractor Still Violating Labor Rules?

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