On Monday, eight Democratic U.S. Senators plus Independent Senator Bernie Sanders, sent a letter to Senate Rules Committee Chairman Roy Blunt (R-MO), requesting that contractors who do business with the U.S. Senate be required to pay their employees a living wage and to provide them with health care benefits. The letter came after a strike by Senate cafeteria workers drew attention to the low wages U.S. Senate employees earn.
Nine Senators signed the letter to Blunt. The Senators who signed the request for paying Senate workers a living wage were Dick Durbin (D-IL), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Bob Casey (D-PA), Ed Markey (D-MA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Mark Warner (D-VA).
President Obama’s Executive Order requires government contractors to pay employees $10.10 per hour. Assuming a full-time schedule with no earned vacation or sick days, a worker could earn about $21,000 annually.
With the cost of living in the Washington DC metropolitan area among the highest in the United States, the Rules Committee should build on this minimum wage by requiring contractors doing business with the U.S. Senate to be model employers who treat their employees fairly. People who work full time should be able to support themselves and their families.
Contractors should not be allowed to keep food and restaurant services prices low for Senators, Senate staff and visitors to the Senate while failing to pay their workers a living wage. Nor should American taxpayers subsidize these contractors by allowing them to pay low wages that must be augmented by taxpayer-funded benefits.
The U.S. Congress should be working to improve the economic security of middle class families across the country. We should start right here in the U.S. Senate.
We ask that you work with the Sergeant at Arms to require U.S. Senate contractors, including Restaurant Associates, the current food and restaurant service contractor, to provide a living wage, fair healthcare and other benefits, and that give employees a voice in their workplace.
Ironically, some Senate Democrats were instrumental in privatizing Senate cafeteria work in 2008. At that time, Senate cafeteria workers earned 37,000 dollars annually, which is nearly double what some of the privately contracted employees make seven years later in 2015.
Fortunately, many leading Democrats now recognize that contracting Senate work out to private companies that pay substandard wages was a mistake, and now they are attempting to fix the problem. Senate workers deserve a living wage. Democratic Senators are acknowledging the need to raise the wages of Senate workers. Now it is up to Roy Blunt and the Republicans to join them and make it happen.