Today, the Department of Labor announced today that the Senate cafeteria workers who were illegally denied wages will receive $1 million dollars in backpay from Restaurant Associates (RA) and its subcontractor, Personnel Plus. The money will be split among 674 employees, though DOL did not specify how much particular individuals will receive. Even a small backpay award or a slight wage increase could mean the difference to some of these workers between needing to work one job or two.
In an official investigation, DOL’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) concluded that RA misclassified the cafeteria workers, in violation of the Service Contract Act. RA was also found to have violated the FLSA. According to the Associated Press, the WHD is considering whether RA should be banned from future government contracts. However, there has been no mention of whether RA’s current contract could be cancelled. Because there is no private right of action under the Service Contract Act, the workers can do nothing more than await DOL’s decision.
According to RA Senior Vice President of Creative Services, Sam Soccaur, the misclassifications occurred due to “administrative technicalities” involving the workers’ “evolving day-to-day work responsibilities.” However, this justification is inconsistent with the nature of the workers’ claims. The workers alleged that despite their work responsibilities not having changed, their titles (and corresponding wages) were downgraded under the new RA contract in December 2015. For example, Betrand Olotara, who had always worked as a “Cook” and always cooked the same foods, was reclassified as a “Food Service Worker”— a lower-paying job whose responsibilities do not include cooking at all, except for toast.
No matter what happens with future RA contracts, now the Senate Cafeteria workers have something to show for their organizing efforts and their low-wage work serving Washington’s elite. Read our previous updates on this topic here and here.