Late last year, during a trip to DC to argue for higher wages for working Americans, the Patriotic Millionaires participated in a “brown bag boycott” of the Senate cafeteria. The goal of the boycott, which was organized by Sen. Bernie Sanders, was to raise awareness for low-wage Senate cafeteria workers striking to demand better pay and a union.
Week after week, lawmakers and staff joined the workers’ effort. On the day the Patriotic Millionaires attended the boycott, Sen. Cory Booker and Sen. Sherrod Brown joined in.
We thought the hard work paid off. After months of negotiations and much bad press, Restaurant Associates — the company that employs the cafeteria workers — agreed to a new contract affording better pay. Some expected to see a bump of as much as $5 per hour.
But you can never underestimate the lows groups like Restaurant Associations will stoop to in order to maintain low pay.
Last week, Catherine Rampell of the Washington Post detailed how Restaurant Associates has reneged on its promise to raise wages for Senate cafeteria workers by reclassifying employees in ways that allow for lower pay.
For example, a cook who would make $17.45 under the new contract gets reclassified as a “food service worker”, a position that pays just $13.80, despite the fact that they do exactly the same job they have always done.
This is exactly what happened to one of the cafeteria workers, 45-year-old Bertrand Olotara, who met with the Patriotic Millionaires during the brown bag boycott.
“I’m a cook, and I’ve always been a cook,” he told the Post. “Now suddenly [my cafeteria manager is] telling me I’m a ‘food service worker.’ ”
That difference may not seem like much but multiplied over a year, its a game changer for the former substitute teacher.
The Patriotic Millionaires are appalled that Restaurant Associates has gone back on its word, and that they have chosen such an underhanded way to do it. It’s particularly galling that they did so after getting the public credit for finally “doing the right thing.”
So we encourage you to write them, call them, pay them them — let them know what you think.
The CEO of Restaurant Associates is named Dick Cattani. The company’s corporate headquarters is 132 West 31st Street, Suite 601, New York, NY 10001. Their phone number is 212.613.5500.