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Senators announce funding for Capitol cafeteria workers to avoid layoffs

WASHINGTON — A group of Democratic senators said Wednesday they secured funding that would save more than 80 Senate cafeteria workers from losing their jobs over the next 10 days.

The senses. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and fellow Democrats told a crowd of workers at a rally that the Capitol Architect’s office, which is responsible for managing contracts that employ cafeteria workers, is expected to use $3.75 million of previously earmarked Covid relief funds to avoid layoffs.

“When I see all of your faces, I think of everything you’ve been through,” Klobuchar told workers picketing the Capitol. “You were here on the front line. You were here in the cafeteria… It was really tough and you hung on for us.

Klobuchar is chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, which oversees the Capitol’s architect.

But even with Wednesday’s announcement, it’s unclear if the funding is a done deal.

Restaurant Associates, the federal contractor that employs the cafeteria workers, said it had not received confirmation that the additional funding needed to avoid layoffs was on the way.

“While we have not yet received official word from the Capitol Architect, we are very encouraged by this report,” the company said in a statement.

After the coronavirus pandemic hit the United States in March 2020, the Capitol was closed to tourists and visitors, with just a limited footprint of lawmakers, staffers and journalists in the otherwise buzzing complex. This led to the temporary closure of several dining halls on the Capitol grounds.

An empty Senate cafeteria.Frank Thorp V/NBC News

The Capitol began reopening to visitors on March 28, but Restaurant Associates employees said they were told last week that about half of the Senate’s 175 cafeteria workers would lose their jobs on April 15 due to a shortage. of financing.

“Given that pandemic-related funding has run out and the number of people we serve is a small fraction of what it was, we have to make these tough decisions,” a Restaurant Associates spokesperson told NBC News ahead of the announced deal.

When reached for comment, a spokesperson for the Capitol Architect said, “The goal is to continue to work with Restaurant Associates to ensure they are aware of the commitment of the AOC to try to resume operations and avoid any layoffs, if possible.”

After receiving the layoff notification plans, the workers asked the senators for help. On Monday, cafeteria workers personally lobbied senators, going door to door at Senate office buildings and imploring lawmakers.

“Everyone needs this job. Everyone has problems at home,” said Mariel Nascimemto, cafeteria supervisor at Senate Dirksen’s office, on Wednesday. “We have to deal with this. We need it.”

Senators announce funding for Capitol cafeteria workers to avoid layoffs
A Senate cafeteria worker protests near the US Capitol earlier this week.Frank Thorp V/NBC News

While grateful for what appears to be a temporary solution to avoid layoffs, the workers – members of the UNITE HERE Local 23 union – say they still need a permanent funding solution.

“It’s frustrating, but in the end, we got through it. We were very lucky that the senators were able to give us the money,” Anthony Thomas, a Dirksen cafeteria worker, told NBC News. “Hopefully they can get enough money to…make us feel like they really care.”

While major organizing efforts are underway across the country, Senate cafeteria workers aren’t the only employees on Capitol Hill demanding better working conditions. In recent weeks, House staffers have pushed to unionize amid long hours, relatively low wages and a lack of diversity in the workplace.

“We shouldn’t treat a worker like a disposable cog in a machine,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., who attended Wednesday’s rally. “We appreciate who they are and that they are providing for their families.”


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