Senate Democrats, Sanders call for better wages, benefits for Senate dining workers

A group of Senate Democrats and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) have called for higher wages and better benefits for Senate dining workers, who are negotiating their first unionized contract. 

The group of lawmakers sent the letter on Wednesday to Architect of the Capitol J. Brett Blanton, Restaurant Associates Chief Financial Officer Joe Sargis and Compass Company CEO Gary Green. 

In the letter, the lawmakers mention Blanton receiving funds to protect Senate dining workers’ jobs amid Restaurant Associates’ plan to lay off workers, urging that those workers shouldn’t lose their jobs as the Senate building plans to reopen and citing their continued work through the pandemic and Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack. 

“After these dedicated employees faced down a violent insurrection at the Capitol and continued to serve through more than two years of a pandemic, layoffs should never have been on the table,” the lawmakers said in their letter. 

“We understand that the ongoing public health crisis and security measures have led to financial challenges in Senate restaurants,” the lawmakers added.

“While steps to reopen the Capitol are already underway and additional measures are being considered subject to the approval of the Capitol Police Board, foot traffic in the Senate cafeteria has been a fraction of what it was pre-pandemic and catering operations have ceased.”

The lawmakers also wrote in their letter that Senate dining workers are the least likely food service employees to enroll in employer-sponsored health insurance or retirement, as only 18 percent of them are currently enrolled.

This comes as the Senate dining workers have recently obtained union recognition and will be represented by UNITE HERE Local 23 following a majority card count and voluntary recognition. 

The dining workers’ recent unionization is a response to the previously announced series of layoffs by their contractor, Restaurant Associates. 

“Now that the immediate threat of layoffs is behind us, we encourage the Architect of the Capitol to work with all stakeholders, including Restaurant Associates and UNITE HERE, to ensure that the Senate food services contract reflects a commitment to a collective bargaining agreement with quality pay and benefits for all workers,” the letter said. “We thank you for working to resolve this matter as quickly as possible.”

Along with Sanders, 17 Senate Democrats signed the letter, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.).

Tags Amy Klobuchar Bernie Sanders Bernie Sanders Cory Booker dining labor unions Labor unions Senate Senate Senate Sherrod Brown UNITE HERE Local 23 Washington D.C.

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