Capitol Workers to Strike Ahead of Papal Visit

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

A few hours before Pope Francis arrives in the District of Columbia for the first leg of his U.S. visit, Capitol food service and other government contract workers will walk off their jobs.  

The workers will strike Tuesday to renew their call for a $15-an-hour wage and the right to unionize. They plan to proceed to the Capitol and convene across from the East Front with religious leaders and presidential hopeful Sen. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., to pray for lawmakers to heed the pope’s message about economic inequality. On Sept. 10, more than 40 Capitol workers requested an audience with Pope Francis to discuss their struggle to make ends meet while serving wealthy lawmakers. Around 40 workers from the Senate and Capitol Visitor Center also went on strike in July , the third in less than a year.  

Capitol Workers Ask to Meet With Pope Francis

Charles Gladden, left, speaks with Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, at an April strike. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

More than 40 Capitol food service workers are requesting a meeting with Pope Francis when he visits the Hill on Sept. 24.  

"We look forward to welcoming you to our workplace and request the opportunity to meet with you," the workers wrote in a letter. "We want you to know that even though we serve the wealthy and the powerful in the Congress, we earn so little that we live in utter poverty." Among the signatories to the letter, which will be sent to the pope's staff at the Vatican, as well as to his ambassador in the District of Columbia, were familiar names from the Senate and Capitol Visitor Center who have participated in three strikes over the past 10 months and written about their experiences in op-eds in The Guardian. One of the signatories was Charles Gladden, the Senate worker who revealed he was homeless in April.  

NLRB Finds Retaliation After Capitol Food Worker Strike

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The National Labor Relations Board has found that the Capitol's food-service vendor likely violated labor laws when supervisors retaliated against workers who went on strike. In two separate cases, the NLRB found merit in allegations of retaliation, which included charges of interrogation and coercive statements. Workers in the Capitol Visitor Center and the Dirksen Senate Office Building filed unfair labor practice charges against Restaurant Associates in April and May, respectively, following an April 22 strike for higher wages and union representation.  

After the cases were filed, the NLRB proceeded with an investigation, which included conducting confidential interviews with the workers involved. The NLRB found all but one of the charges, which was voluntarily withdrawn, had merit, and the parties involved reached a settlement on July 31.  

Capitol Food Workers Bring Income Inequality to Congress' Front Step

Workers called for higher wages and a union. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)

For the third time in the past eight months, food-service workers at the Capitol have gone on strike to push for higher wages and union representation, a rare example of a national issue — income inequality — hitting close to home for Congress.  

Forty Capitol workers, the highest number so far, joined roughly 650 federal contract workers from across the District of Columbia Wednesday who went on strike and rallied in Upper Senate Park. The previous Capitol protests called on President Barack Obama to take executive action to raise contract-worker wages, which would not have affected workers in the legislative branch. But on Wednesday, workers called on Congress to raise the minimum wage, and presidential candidate and Sen. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., and Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., announced at the rally they would introduce legislation to more than double the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.  

Rotunda Closing Changes Capitol Tour Route

Capitol tours will be modified to adjust to the Rotunda closing this summer. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

With the Rotunda closing for six weeks this summer, Capitol tour guides will be offering a modified tour of the Capitol, that does not include National Statuary Hall.  

According to Capitol Visitor Center spokesperson Sharon Gang, the Small Senate Rotunda will be added to the Capitol tour route while the Rotunda is closed. The route will also include tour staples such as the orientation film, the Capitol Crypt and the Old Supreme Court Chamber. Gang wrote in an email last week that, "The route is accessible to individuals with mobility issues." But the new route does not include Statuary Hall, a typical stop on a Capitol tour. A separate Statuary Hall tour will be available during the August recess.  

Police Evacuate Capitol, CVC After Fire Alarm Goes Off

Capitol Police stand guard Tuesday outside the Capitol. (Hannah Hess/CQ Roll Call)

Updated 1:24 p.m. | Police evacuated the Capitol Tuesday after a fire alarm went off in the Capitol Visitor Center.  

According to a source close to the investigation, "exhaust fan issues" caused the smoke to appear in a room in the CVC around 12:20 p.m., prompting Capitol Police officers to evacuate both that building and the Capitol. Washington D.C., fire officials were called to the scene to assist police and "are continuing to investigate the cause of an audible alarm," according to Lt. Kimberly Schneider, a Capitol Police spokeswoman, who also said there were no signs of smoke or fire.  

Lawmakers Push for Lower CVC Food Prices

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Amid complaints about wages for restaurant workers and allegations about retaliation  against workers who went on strike, the Capitol Visitor Center is facing questions on another front: food prices.  

The disparity between CVC food prices and those in other Capitol cafeterias has spurred constituent complaints, and House appropriators are taking action. Tucked into the House Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee report is a provision zeroing in on food prices at the CVC. "The committee has some concerns with the cost of meals in the Capitol Visitor Center," the lawmakers wrote. The provision instructs the Architect of the Capitol and the chief administrative officer to review CVC food prices compared to prices in House cafeterias.  

CVC Workers Allege Retaliation After Strike (Video)

Duckett, third from the left, alleges her manager cut her hours after the strike. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Two Capitol Visitor Center contract workers have filed an unfair labor practice complaint against their employer for allegedly retaliating against employees who participated in a strike last week.  

"When I went into work on Thursday I was being harassed," CVC cashier Kellie Duckett, 30, said in a Tuesday phone interview. "[The manager] cut my hours, she cut me and a co-worker's hours, she was just pretty much following me around Thursday. And Friday is when she took me in her office and she threatened my job." On April 24, the advocacy group Good Jobs Nation filed the complaint to the National Labor Relations Board on behalf of Duckett and fellow CVC cafeteria worker Tracy Allen. The complaint is filed against Restaurant Associates, which employes the food service contract workers in the Capitol complex.  

Senate Contractors to Join Federal Workers Strike at Capitol

Reginald Lewis (center), a CVC food services worker, goes on strike for higher wages in November. ( Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Contract workers in the U.S. Senate will walk off their jobs Wednesday to join contractors from across the District of Columbia in a strike calling for preference to be given to contractors who offer better wages, benefits and collective bargaining rights.  

The Senate janitors and food service workers will join workers from the Capitol Visitor Center, the Pentagon, Union Station, the National Zoo and Smithsonian Institution at the rally on the West Front of the Capitol Wednesday morning.   In November, workers from the Capitol Visitor Center joined the protest , marking the first time contract workers in the Capitol walked off their jobs as part of the movement. Wednesday is the first time Senate workers will join the strike.  

New CVC Exhibit Highlights Congressional Investigations

The Watergate burglar's address book that linked the White House to the break-in. (CourtesyRecords of District Courts of the United States, National Archives and Records Administration)

In the Capitol Visitor Center, behind the replica of the Statue of Freedom, a small address book sits in a glass case.  

Under the name "HH" are two phone numbers: one for "home" and the other listed as "WH," aka the White House.