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Labor Group Sees 'Pattern of Retaliation' Against Capitol Workers

Forty Capitol workers went on strike in July. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Less than a week after the Senate food vendor settled a dispute regarding retaliation against workers who went on strike, a supervisor allegedly reprimanded a worker who spoke out against her wages.  

Kim, a worker in the Dirksen Senate Office Building who asked not to be identified with her last name, detailed in an Aug. 6 piece for The Guardian how she could not make ends meet with $10.33-an-hour wages and resorted to dancing in a strip club for extra money. According to the unfair labor practice charge obtained by Roll Call, the day Kim's op-ed was published, her supervisor "angrily told the employee that she 'shouldn't have said those things' and that 'it's not professional.'"  

The altercation prompted Good Jobs Nation, a coalition of labor groups that has been organizing the federal worker strikes, to file the charge against Restaurant Associates, which runs food services in the Senate and Capitol Visitor Center, on behalf of Kim.  

Kim wrote that she could not afford school supplies or clothes for her son, and resorted to dancing in a strip club because it was the "the only job I could find that let me work a flexible schedule." Kim also wrote of her past, being raised by a drug-addicted mother, living on the street and being forced into prostitution at a young age.  

"The birth of my son was a turning point in my life. I found a full-time job at the U.S. Senate, and I was so proud to be able to work in such an important place," Kim wrote. "During that time, I went back to school and I got my GED. I thought that I was doing great, but it didn’t take long for me to learn that even a job in the Senate wasn’t enough to give me and my son a shot at a better life."  

Good Jobs Nation says the alleged retaliation violates workers' rights to organize and collectively bargain laid out in the National Labor Relations Act. The campaign is also alleging Restaurant Associates violated a recent labor settlement  reached on July 31.  

The National Labor Relations Board found merit in charges that Restaurant Associates supervisors had retaliated against food service workers who went on strike in April. The cases were settled, with Restaurant Associates agreeing to post notices in break rooms stipulating workers' rights and that supervisors would not interfere with those rights.  

Kim's alleged reprimand for speaking out against low wages and the process of laying off workers during congressional recesses came one week later. The NLRB will now examine the new charge, determine whether it has merit and whether the supervisor also violated the recent settlement.  

If the NLRB finds Restaurant Associates violated the agreement as well as the law, that could prompt an additional remedy. It is possible the the NLRB could find merit in the charge itself, but also find that the action did not violate the settlement.  

A spokesperson for Restaurant Associates told Roll Call Thursday the company is investigating the allegation.  

Restaurant Associates is in the midst of renegotiating its contract with the Senate, which expires on Dec. 1. The Architect of the Capitol is taking the lead on the negotiations, while the Senate Rules Committee also oversees the process.  

The strikes and revelations that workers have not been able to sustain themselves on their wages prompted a backlash from some lawmakers. Every member of the Senate Democratic caucus, including Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., recently signed a letter to Rules Chairman Roy Blunt, R-Mo, and ranking member Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., urging the committee to push for higher wages and improved conditions for Capitol food service workers.  

The campaign that has helped organize recent Capitol food worker strikes said the recent allegation revealed a disregard for workers' rights.  

"This latest complaint shows a consistent pattern of retaliation against workers who are raising their voices to say they are homeless, are on food stamps and have to work multiple jobs to make ends meet while working in the U.S. Capitol," Good Jobs Nation spokesman Paco Fabián said. "Just a few days after the NLRB settled another case of illegal behavior, the company does it again. It appears that Restaurant Associates does not care about the law."  

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