US Capitol workers want their voices heard over wage theft

Last month, the U.S. Department of Labor announced that U.S. Senate federal contract workers like me had been robbed of over $1 million dollars from our paychecks by our employer, Compass Group.

DOL found that Compass had been paying us less than the legal rates for our jobs, had not being paying us proper overtime or even for all the hours we worked, and had not kept proper payroll records.


Within weeks, some of my co-workers started receiving as much as $20,000 in back-pay awards. But I only received $240, with no explanation of how it was calculated.

I’ve worked at the Senate for over a decade and I believe the company likely stole much more than a couple of hundred bucks from me.

And I’m not alone. Over a dozen Senate contract workers received little or no compensation as wage theft victims.

Worst of all, neither myself, nor any of these workers were contacted or interviewed by the Labor Department or the Architect of the Capitol, the agency that oversees the contract, as part of the investigation.

Since we did not have the opportunity to speak with investigators, DOL must have based its calculations of the back pay we are owed on information provided by the Compass. But how can this make sense when DOL also found that the company had been keeping false records?

The truth is that this is a symptom of a bigger problem: Workers and our representatives have not been invited to participate in the investigation and settlement talks even though we exposed the illegal conduct and are directly impacted by the results.

If this were a court case, the victims would have their say, but we are low-wage workers who can’t afford a private attorney.

That’s why workers are sending a letter to the Architect of the Capitol and the Department of Labor to request that our voices are respected.

For us, respect means a willingness to bring workers into the process.

We want to make sure every worker at the U.S. Senate is interviewed by Labor Department investigators and provided with an explanation of how their back-pay awards were calculated.

But even more importantly, we want to be represented during the negotiation of the final settlement. We believe that we can play a role in holding the company accountable to following the law.

Our wages would not have been stolen in the first place if we had a seat at the table. Giving workers a voice in the investigation and settlement talks is the best way to prevent wage theft in the future.

Alba Morales is a cashier at the Dirksen Senate Cafeteria and a leader of the Good Jobs Nation campaign of low wage federal contract workers.


The views expressed by Contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.