Federal contract workers file complaint to Labor Dept. over low wages

Federal contract workers file complaint to Labor Dept. over low wages
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Federally contracted employees in the Department of Education, National Park Service and National Zoo announced plans Thursday to file a complaint over low wages with the Department of Labor.

Good Jobs Nation (GJN), which is advocating for the low-wage workers, said these federally contracted employees have been deprived of over $1.58 million in unpaid wages and benefits.

“The Return of Federal Sweatshops, How America’s Broken Contract Wage Laws Fail Workers,” a report the group released Thursday, found that janitors in the Education Department are getting paid a base wage between $9.10 and 9.65 an hour with no benefits, sick leave or vacation.

The minimum wage for janitors in Washington, D.C., is $11.83 per hour plus $4.02 per hour in health and welfare benefits, 10 paid holidays and up to four weeks' paid vacation depending on seniority.

The group said two of the janitors included in the complaint clean the office of Education Secretary Arne DuncanArne Starkey DuncanHow Democrats learned to stop worrying and love teachers Obama Education Secretary: US education system is 'top 10 in nothing' Obama Cabinet official: Trump doesn’t want educated workforce MORE. GJN said it has limited resources and has not determined if other agency secretaries also have contracted workers being paid low wages.

In a statement, Education Department Spokeswoman Dorie Nolt said the well-being of every person who works in the building, whether they are hired drictly by the agency or not, is important to the department.

“The General Services Administration (GSA) manages the Department’s headquarters facilities, including the janitorial/custodial contract,” she said. “GSA is working with the vendor to ensure that employee concerns are appropriately addressed in a timely manner.”

Under the Service Contract Act enacted by Congress in 1965, privately employed workers performing services under contract for federal agencies must be paid no less than a minimum wage and benefit rate set for the occupation and locality by the U.S. Secretary of Labor.  

The law, GJN said in a news release, was part of President Johnson's War on Poverty and intended to eliminate sweatshop conditions from federal contracting.

At the Smithsonian Zoo the pay for groundskeeping staff is set at $13.07 an hour under the Act, but GJN said it found some employees who were being paid $9.50 to $9.80 an hour. And some tour bus drivers for the National Park Service who are supposed to making at least $20.85 plus fringe benefits are being paid $16.60 an hour, the group said.

In its report, the labor group urged Obama to issue an executive order that would give preference in federal contracting to “model employers” that pay their workers a living wage of at least $15 an hour, offer decent benefits and respect their right to bargain collectively.

GSA directed all calls on the matter to the Labor Department, which has not yet responded to requests for comment.