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The Hightower Report

Hello Congress: Meet your poverty-wage food servers

By Jim Hightower, June 12, 2015, News

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.

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