The cooks, cashiers, dishwashers and others working in the Senate Cafeteria have finally secured their first union contract – complete with living wages (starting at $20/hour) and affordable family health care. Banquet Server Paulo Pizarro said:
I just went from paying $120 per week on health insurance to $7 per week—and there’s no deductible. It is such an incredible feeling to know that it was me and my coworkers that won this. It feels so great to know that this whole fight was worth it in the end.
The union contract also gives workers a grievance procedure to settle future disputes, paid time off to vote, immigration protections and more.
The Catholic Labor Network has been accompanying the Senate Cafeteria workers on their march toward justice for more than a year. In November 2021 they joined the hotel and food service union UNITE HERE under a card check process certified by Fr. Martin Burnham, then a faculty member at the Theological College at the Catholic University of America. They then began a long fight for a just contract. Dozens of Catholic Labor Network members met with or sent messages to their Senators urging a just settlement for these workers, while CLN members in the Washington DC area joined the workers for rallies and a civil disobedience action.
UNITE HERE Local 23 President Marlene Patrick-Cooper praised the workers for their courage and tenacity:
What we are seeing here is an example of worker power in action. Government jobs are supposed to be the kind of jobs to lift workers—particularly Black and Brown workers, like the overwhelming majority are at the Senate cafeteria—out of poverty. This group of workers were willing to go as far as put their bodies on the line and take arrest to have their issues heard by some of the most powerful people in the world.
The Senate Cafeteria is currently operated by Restaurant Associates, a vendor under contract with the “Architect of the Capitol” who manages the property. When the contract is put out for bid again, any successor will be obliged to honor the terms of the current collective bargaining agreement.
“It’s about time that we got here so we can settle this long-term fight and start seeing real changes,” said cashier Quentin Blackman. “I’m proud to be a part of the Senate community that helped make this happen.”
Thanks to all CLN members who took action to support these workers!