Hundreds of workers who prepare and serve meals for Capitol Hill lawmakers and their staffs in the U.S. Senate cafeterias will receive more than $1 million in back wages after a U.S. Department of Labor investigation found their employers failed to pay prevailing wages required of federal contractors. The department’s Wage and Hour Division announced yesterday that Restaurant Associates and its subcontractor, Personnel Plus, will pay 674 workers $1,008,302 in back wages. “This shows that when workers act, workers can win,” said Joseph Geevarghese, Director of Good Jobs Nation, which has been organizing the workers. But Geevarghese warned that “criminal activity at the U.S. Capitol is just the tip of the iceberg,” noting that “If federal contractors feel free to break federal law right under the noses of lawmakers, they probably feel free to violate the rights of workers all across America.” The Model Employer Executive Order, was just added to the Democratic Platform for the first time, would enable the President to “allow workers to organize and empower them to hold their bosses accountable to following the law,” Geevarghese said. Read more below...
photo: Senator Harry Reid meets with senate workers in November 2015; photo courtesy Good Jobs Nation Twitter feed
The division found the two employers violated the McNamara-O’Hara Service Contract Act when they improperly classified workers – paying them for lower-paying jobs than they actually performed – and required employees to work prior to their scheduled starting times without compensation. Paying below the required rates also caused the companies to fail to pay the workers overtime at the proper rates.
“Employers given the opportunity to earn a profit by providing a service to the government at a cost to the tax payer have a legal obligation to follow the letter of the law, especially when it comes to paying their workers,” said the department’s Wage and Hour Division Administrator David Weil. “Workers in the restaurant industry are among the lowest-paid workers in our economy. Most struggle to afford life’s basic expenses and pay their bills; they shouldn’t have to deal with paychecks that don’t accurately reflect their hard work and the wages to which they are legally entitled.”
The agency also determined the employers failed to pay required health and welfare benefits and violated the SCA’s recordkeeping requirements. Investigators found that Restaurant Associates’ failure to pay workers proper overtime and failure to maintain a record of hours employees worked prior to their scheduled shifts also violated the Fair Labor Standards Act.
“Enforcement of the prevailing wage laws levels the playing field for all contractors and protects the wages of hard-working employees,” said Mark Watson, Regional Administrator for the Wage and Hour Division in the Northeast. “These contractors’ actions put vulnerable, low-wage workers and their families in jeopardy. The division will remain vigilant in its enforcement of these laws to protect both workers and employers.”
The division is reviewing the findings to determine whether to seek debarment of the employers from obtaining contracts with the federal government in the future.