UPDATED, 4:40 PM
Dozens of food and other service workers at Washington, D.C.’s Ronald Reagan Building, which houses federal agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency and General Services Administration (GSA), took to the street Tuesday in a one-day strike to protest low wages. It is the second strike in the nation’s capital in the last two months by federally contracted service workers.
Good Jobs Nation, the labor group working to organize those employees, is demanding that the Department of Labor investigate employers in the building for wage theft and worker harassment, too.
“We’re out here because we want to hold the federal government accountable for the standards that they have in the workplace with their contractors,” said Corey Taylor, director of community group Our DC and a spokesperson for Good Jobs Nation. He claimed that several of the striking workers are paid below minimum wage, while others are not compensated for their overtime work.
Good Jobs Nation has drafted a 16-page complaint addressed to the U.S. Department of Labor, which claims that private contractors within the Reagan Building have repeatedly violated the Fair Labor Standards Act through “payment of wage rates under the federal minimum wage, 60 to 70-hour workweeks without payment of overtime, and use of false or deceptive record-keeping to conceal these violations from employees and public authorities.”
On Tuesday morning Good Jobs Nation group personally delivered that complaint to the home of Dan Tangherlini, acting head of the GSA. The GSA, which owns the Reagan Building, took the complaints to the Department of Labor and the Trade Center Management Associates (TMCA), the private company which manages the building, saying it looks forward to the results of the investigation.
“GSA has clear guidelines in our contracts to ensure that our contractors follow the law, and we take allegations of violations very seriously,” said GSA spokesperson Dan Cruz in a statement. “We have referred this matter to Department of Labor for further review and we have sent a letter to TCMA reiterating that it must follow federal and local laws in their own contracts with the food court tenants. We will look forward to reviewing the results of DOL’s investigation and will take appropriate actions where necessary.”
Low-wage employees of federal contractors also went on strike in late May. That strike, which consisted of about 150 federally contracted service workers, drew from private workplaces in the Reagan Building, Smithsonian Museums, and other government buildings around Washington. The latest strike contains about 50 workers, all of them drawn from the Reagan Building. Organizers claim that the number of Reagan Building participants has increased since the first strike, when they made up only about 30 of the total strikers.
“I wasn’t involved in the first strike because I was scared,” said Cecilia Hernandez, who works for a Subway fast food restaurant in the Reagan Building. But she joined in Tuesday’s work stoppage because “I’ve been working there for a year, and I’ve been working there long enough to find out workers don’t have any rights.”
A Demos report released on the day of Good Jobs Nation’s official launch found that federal contracts directly subsidize over more low-wage jobs—defined as jobs paying under $12 per hour—than Walmart and McDonald’s combined.
“Workers are out here fighting for a decent living wage,” said Taylor. “They’re fighting to get paid the money they deserve, and instead of getting a good response from the GSA, all the workers have gotten is intimidation and harassment from their employers.” He claimed workers had been suspended or had their hours cut in response to speaking out, though he declined to name specific instances.
Strikers get big labor - and Congressional - support
Good Jobs Nation isn’t the only group backing the D.C. workers. Taylor’s organization, Our DC, has exceedingly close ties to the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), one of the largest unions in the United States. In addition, shortly after the first Good Jobs Nation strike, the two heads of the House Progressive Caucus—Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., and Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz.—co-authored a letter with Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., requesting an opportunity to address low-wage workers’ concerns with Tangherlini. A spokesperson for Ellison confirmed that the congressman had not received a response.
The most recent strike was joined by two D.C. City Council members: Kenyan McDuffie and Tommy Wells. Last month, McDuffie introduced a council resolution calling out the “substandard and sometimes unlawful terms and conditions” under which federally contracted employees labor in the District of Columbia.
“Workers need to make a wage that is a living, family-sustaining wage,” he told msnbc. He noted that the richest 5% of households in D.C. have an average annual income of $473,000, while the bottom 20% make only about $10,000 per year.
TCMA sent msnbc the following statement:
Trade Center Management Associates (TCMA) is responsible for the management of the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center (“RRB/ITC”) under a competitively awarded contract with the General Services Administration (GSA).
TCMA does not hire or employ the employees of the businesses operating in the food court, and their wages are determined by their employers. As GSA’s trade center manager, TCMA enters into license agreements with these food court vendors, under which they pay for space to operate within the RRB/ITC. Those license agreements oblige vendors to comply with all applicable laws, including applicable local laws. If the allegations asserted in the complaint by Good Jobs Nation are investigated and validated by the Department of Labor, then TCMA will consult with the GSA, as GSA’s trade center manager, on the appropriate steps to be taken.