The Hightower Report

Hello Congress: Meet your poverty-wage food servers

Back in 2008, Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein declared: "There are parts of government that can be run like a business and should be run like businesses."

Thus, the chairwoman of the Senate com­mit­tee overseeing Congressional facilities privatized the restaurants and other food services in the U.S. Senate. Sure enough, those dining spots now turn a profit, because they are being "run like businesses" – specifically a business like McDonald's. Restau­rant Associates, the New York outfit that got the House and Senate food contract, profits by paying poverty-level wages and generally mistreating the cooks, waitstaff, and other people who put the "service" in food service.

Wages are less than $11 an hour, well below the very expensive cost of living in the Washington, D.C., area. "Everybody has second jobs," says one weary worker. And when our $174,000-a-year members of Congress adjourn for the three months or so of vacation they take each year, the food service workers are sent away with no pay at all. In fairness, I should note that Restaurant Assoc­iates did give a pay raise to some workers not long ago – it was 3¢ an hour. That's not a raise; it's an insult!

"I serve food to some of the most powerful people on Earth," says a Senate cook. "They often talk of expanded opportunity for workers, but most don't seem to notice or care that workers in their own building are struggling to survive."

Care? A key Republican committee chairman, Rep. Tom Graves, recently showed how much Congress cares about inequality by refusing even to consider requiring food service contractors to pay a living wage: "It's really not within the scope of this committee to micromanage all contracts," he sniffed.

Think of how that makes the Capitol dining staff feel. If I was ol' Tom, from now on I wouldn't eat anywhere in the Capitol without taking a food taster with me.

For more information on Jim Hightower's work – and to subscribe to his award-winning monthly newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown – visit You can hear his radio commentaries on KOOP Radio, 91.7FM, weekdays at 10:58am and 12:58pm.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Dianne Feinstein
Letters at 3AM: It Came From the White House
Letters at 3AM: It Came From the White House
Obama and a majority of Democratic legislators support the NDAA, allowing the arrest of U.S. citizens without a warrant

Michael Ventura, Feb. 10, 2012

Immigration Insanity in D.C.
Immigration Insanity in D.C.
While Senate debates useless details of proposed immigration legislation, potentially insidious portions of Hagel-Martinez compromise lurk, waiting to slip through

Diana Welch, May 26, 2006

More The Hightower Report
The Hightower Report
The Hightower Report
The Donald Show

Jim Hightower, July 10, 2015

The Hightower Report
The Hightower Report
The damning nuttiness of the GOP's "Hell No" faction

Jim Hightower, Aug. 15, 2014


Dianne Feinstein, food service, Restaurant Associates, Tom Graves

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle