By Bridget Bowman, Roll Call
Two Capitol Visitor Center contract workers have filed an unfair labor practice complaint against their employer for allegedly retaliating against employees who participated in a strike last week.
“When I went into work on Thursday I was being harassed,” CVC cashier Kellie Duckett, 30, said in a Tuesday phone interview. “[The manager] cut my hours, she cut me and a co-worker’s hours, she was just pretty much following me around Thursday. And Friday is when she took me in her office and she threatened my job.”
On April 24, the advocacy group Good Jobs Nation filed the complaint to the National Labor Relations Board on behalf of Duckett and fellow CVC cafeteria worker Tracy Allen. The complaint is filed against Restaurant Associates, which employes the food service contract workers in the Capitol complex.
Duckett and Allen were among the 13 CVC workers who participated in an April 22 strike and rally at the Capitol, along with 23 Senate workers. They said their manager began retaliating against them when they returned to work the next day. But the company said any retaliation is not allowed.
“Restaurant Associates has a strict policy forbidding retaliation of any kind and is thoroughly investigating the allegations made,” the company’s spokesman Sam Souccar wrote in an email.
However, in the complaint, obtained by CQ Roll Call, the workers allege their manager Gisella Tamariz “has discriminated and retaliated against employees because of their participation in protected activities.” Tamariz allegedly removed one day from their weekly schedule and gave the time to workers who did not participate in the strike.
“Just that one day is anywhere from 50 to 70 dollars, and I have two kids — one who’s already in school one who’s about to start schools,” Duckett said, noting that she makes $11.25 an hour. “When I’m not making that money, that’s clothes for them or that’s food for them.”
Duckett is going on her second year working at the CVC. She was laid off last year when Congress went on recess and then rehired in March. “When I got the job, I was not informed that it was a seasonal or temporary job,” she said. Duckett explained that she went on strike to call for a union, which could ensure better job security.
She said after the strike, her manager threatened to cut Duckett’s job “come layoff time” because Duckett was “walking around talking to people.” Duckett also said co-workers told her Tamariz was telling other employees that Duckett and Allen were not reliable.
“I was upset and I pretty much was letting everything ride off my back, but when she cut my week to four days a week, and I was told by my co-worker that she said I was unreliable, that’s when I got really mad,” Duckett said. “I know I’m not unreliable.”
Duckett said prior to going on strike on Wednesday, she didn’t have any problems with her manager. “Before this, she would actually tell people that I’m doing a great job,” Duckett said. “She had no issues with me.”
In the complaint, Duckett and Allen also allege they were required to work later “without reasonable or customary notice.” The complaint notes that the two workers were given “more onerous work duties,” which Duckett said included wiping down chair legs.
Another charge in the complaint alleges that since April 7, Tamariz ordered employees not to speak with Good Jobs Nation representatives while employees are on break. Good Jobs Nation has organized 12 strikes in the past two years to call for President Barack Obama to take action to improve workplace practices for federal contractors.
In November, CVC workers joined the protest, marking the first time contract workers in the Capitol walked off their jobs. The April 22 rally was the first time Senate workers joined the strike.
The complaint indicates such retaliation is a violation of the National Labor Relations Act, which states that employees can unionize and organize to advance their interests, and employers cannot interfere with those rights. According to the act, a willing violation of the law could result in a fine of up to $10,000 and/or a maximum of one year in prison.
The complaint comes as Senate Democrats are pushing for administrators to give preference to congressional contractors who pay a “living wage,” provide benefits and allow for collective bargaining. The Democrats addressed their concerns in a Monday letter to the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, which oversees Senate contracts.
“Currently, under a contract that has been in place for several years, the average Senate restaurant worker receives an hourly wage well above the minimum referenced in my colleagues’ letter,” Senate Rules Chairman Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said in a statement provided to CQ Roll Call on Tuesday. “Nevertheless, their concerns will be kept in mind as the contract comes up for renegotiation.”
On Tuesday, the committee’s ranking Democrat, Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York, also likely the next Democratic leader, said he would support raising the wage to $15 an hour for Restaurant Associates workers.
Meanwhile, some workers are taking matters into their own hands. Charles Gladden, a homeless Senate food service worker, has started an online fundraising campaign to raise money for struggling workers.
“The truth is that the current President – as well as the people now running for the White House – all walked past me and others who’ve served them in the Senate,” Gladden said in a statement announcing his campaign. “It’s like we’re invisible to them.”