A Big Win for Senate Cafeteria Workers

Isaiah J. Poole

A sustained campaign on behalf of Senate cafeteria workers – including a 63-year-old employee who was homeless because he could not earn enough money to afford an apartment – has succeeded this week in getting these workers a desperately needed boost in pay and benefits.

Thanks to the organizing efforts of Good Jobs Nation and other allies, Senate officials signed a new contract with the workers that raises their minimum pay to $13.30 an hour and brings the average pay to workers close to the $15 an hour that the workers were demanding.

News of the agreement was published Monday by The Washington Post.

The Senate cafeteria workers were held up as a prime example of the kinds of poverty-wage jobs held by people under federal contracts. The company with the contract to manage the Senate cafeteria, Restaurant Associates, is part of a multinational corporation that boasted in its 2014 annual report that it had done well enough to offer to increase its dividend payments to shareholders by 10.5 percent as well as return 1.5 billion pounds – more than $2 billion – to shareholders via share buybacks and other means.

There was plenty of room to give a raise to stockholders, but not to the Senate cafeteria workers – at least not until the Senate cafeteria workers put their own jobs on the line to call attention to their plight. Their bold decision to hold one-day strikes, lead demonstrations and tell their stories led to several Democratic senators – including Minority Leader Harry Reid, Sherrod Brown, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders – and their staffs announcing a boycott of the cafeteria every Wednesday until the demands of the cafeteria workers were met.

The pressure on behalf of the workers appears to have made an impression on Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), the chairman of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, who when signing the new contract said that he was “glad their concerns were heard and taken into consideration in the new contract.”

One concern, though, remains unaddressed: the workers’ demand for the ability to form a union. Restaurant Associates remains subject to complaints filed with the National Labor Relations Board that they have improperly interfered with the ability of the cafeteria workers to organize. Paco Fabian, a spokesman for Good Jobs Nation, was quoted in The Washington Post as saying that the cafeteria workers “won’t stop fighting until they get a voice on the job.” And neither should we.

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