Kucinich Backs Cafeteria Staff

Posted June 21, 2004 at 6:42pm

Having expressed outrage that House cafeteria workers did not receive pay during the recent federal holiday to commemorate the late President Ronald Reagan, Reps. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) and Max Sandlin (D-Texas) are now stepping up the pressure on contractor Guest Services, Inc. to reverse its decision.

In a June 17 letter to Guest Services, Inc. President Gerald Gabrys, the lawmakers state that the company — which operates House Restaurant Services in the Cannon, Longworth and Rayburn House office buildings — did not pay its employees on the impromptu federal holiday, and instead required employees to use accrued vacation or sick leave to receive wages for the day.

“We do not believe this was appropriate or within the spirit of this historically important day,” the lawmakers state in the letter. “We request that you both pay your workers for the day of June 11th and return any vacation or sick leave utilized by employees in response to your policy. Your employees should be commended — not punished — for their hard work and dedication in service to the federal government and our nation.”

Guest Services officials declined to comment, and referred inquiries to the House Administration Committee.

Brian Walsh, spokesman for House Administration Chairman Bob Ney (R-Ohio), stated: “This is a matter between GSI and its union.” He declined to comment further.

The Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Local 25, which represents House food-service workers, is in negotiations with Guest Services over the issue, said John Boardman, the group’s executive secretary-treasurer.

“Generally we have had a very good relationship with GSI … and I think they would like to do the right thing,” Boardman said.

While federal workers received pay June 11, Boardman noted that the executive order creating the one-time holiday did not take into account contract employees.

“We’d like the federal government to recognize that there are vendors, not only in food services, who rely on income as it relates to federal government, who really suffer tremendously … when federal employees do not,” Boardman said. Under their current contract, House food-service employees are paid for existing federal holidays, a list that did not include the June 11 holiday. (Unlike their counterparts in the House, Senate dining-service employees are federal workers.)

In an interview Friday, Kucinich, who noted that he often eats in the House cafeterias, said he will seek additional support for the cause. He issued a “Dear Colleague” letter Monday asking other lawmakers to sign on to his effort.

“I know the workers,” Kucinich said. “They serve us. Occasionally we have to serve them.”

According to Kucinich’s office, Democratic Reps. Gary Ackerman (N.Y.), Raúl Grijalva (Ariz.), Jim Cooper (Tenn.), Ellen Tauscher (Calif.), Stephanie Tubbs Jones (Ohio), Jim McDermott (Wash.), Karen McCarthy (Mo), José Serrano (N.Y.), Gregory Meeks (N.Y.), Brad Sherman (Calif.), Barbara Lee (Calif.), Sam Farr (Calif.), Lois Capps (Calif.), Bill Delahunt (Mass.), Betty McCollum (Minn.), George Miller (Calif.), Albert Wynn (Md.), Diane Watson (Calif.), Patrick Kennedy (R.I.), Tammy Baldwin (Wis.) and Independent Bernie Sanders (Vt.) have signed the letter.

“This company is using this national day of mourning to extract compensation from its workforce,” Kucinich asserted. “This is just a question of fairness. They are the lowest paid workers on Capitol Hill. … Why should they be punished?”

The House previously intervened in a similar instance, after anthrax-laced letters discovered on Capitol Hill prompted the closures of House office buildings in 2001.

Food-service employees received back pay for that period under a provision authored by Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) and inserted into the conference report for the fiscal 2002 legislative branch appropriations bill.

When asked whether he would author a similar measure, Kucinich stated: “I’m going to do whatever it takes to make sure the workers get their compensation.”