Senate Cafeteria Workers Deserve Living Wage, Health Care

Will the Senate Act?

Last November, in a “card check” election validated by Fr. Martin Burnham, some 150 cooks, cashiers and utility workers in the Senate Cafeteria formed a union by joining UNITE HERE Local 23. Now these workers are fighting for a living wage and affordable health care – but will the Senate act to make it happen?

The workers in the Senate cafeteria serve Senators, their staff, and guests visiting the Capitol. They love their work, but many struggle to get by in the expensive Washington DC area. Many are paid the DC minimum wage or scarcely more, and premiums for the bare-bones health insurance are so costly that fewer than one in five workers participate in the employer-provided plan.

“I recently broke my hand and need hand surgery,” explained Anthony Thomas, a utility worker in the cafeteria kitchen. “But I don’t have health insurance because the company’s plan is expensive.”

The workers are employed by Restaurant Associates, the vendor that operates the Senate Cafeteria under contract with the Capitol building’s administration, known as “the Architect of the Capitol.” But their issue isn’t with the company – union research has established that the root problem is the contract itself. The cafeteria is no cash cow, and under terms of its current agreement Restaurant Associates simply can’t afford just wages. To fix this, the Senate needs to act.

The cafeteria workers have been rallying outside the Capitol, calling on the Architect of the Capitol to reissue the contract with terms that provide for just wages and benefits for workers. “At my current salary, I cannot afford the cost of everything going up this year—or even the cost of health insurance,” said cafeteria cook Ludwing Torres. “I want to stay in this job and earn enough to pay for gas, food, and rent in the DC area. We are waiting on the Senators to take action so we can afford to live a better, healthier life.”

The legislators ultimately run their own house. Recently a Catholic Labor Network delegation met with staff for Senator Amy Klobuchar, whose Rules and Administration Committee supervises the work of the Architect of the Capitol. We were told that the committee had directed Capitol staff to draw up alternatives for addressing the issue. That’s good news, but we aren’t there yet.

You can help. CLICK HERE to tell your Senator that the US Government should be a model employer, and that Senate Cafeteria workers deserve just wages and affordable health coverage.