Senators react to CNN report, call for increased wages for cafeteria workers

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Washington (CNN)A group of Democratic senators asked the Senate Rules Committee chairman on Monday to call on private contractors who do business with the U.S. Senate to pay employees a livable wage.

"The U.S. Congress should be working to improve the economic security of middle class families across the country. We should start right here in the U.S. Senate," the senators wrote to Senate Rules Chairman Roy Blunt, a Republican, whose committee oversees Senate services, such as the contract for the company that employs Senate cafeteria workers.
A spokesman for Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, who took the lead on the letter, says it is a direct response to a story he saw on CNN about a homeless man named Charles Gladden, who works in the Capitol and only takes home $360 a week. Durbin forwarded the story to his staff late last week to start the ball rolling about making a push to help.
    "We ask that you work with the Sergeant-at-Arms to require U.S. Senate contractors, including Restaurant Associates, the current food and restaurant service contractor, to provide a living wage, fair health care and other benefits and that give employees a voice in their workplace," the letter says. "The U.S. Congress should be working to improve the economic security of middle class families across the country. We should start right here in the U.S. Senate."
    Senate sources say at this point, the best they can do is publicly call on Restaurant Associates, and its parent company Compass, to raise wages on their own, since the contract the Senate signed when granting them the bid on the business is not up until the end of the year. The Senate cafeteria and dining rooms were privatized in 2008.
    Sources say the hope is that Restaurant Associates complies, especially if the company wants to get the government contract again next year.
    Federal contract employees like those who work in the Senate cafeterias are demanding $15 an hour. Currently, per an executive order signed by President Barack Obama, they make a minimum of $10.10, which the senators note is only $21,000 annually.
    "With the cost of living in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area among the highest in the United States, the Rules Committee should build on this minimum wage by requiring contractors doing business with the U.S. Senate to be model employers who treat their employees fairly. People who work full time should be able to support themselves and their families," wrote the senators.
    In addition to Durbin, the letter was signed by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-California, Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pennsylvania, Sen. Cory Booker, D-New Jersey and Sen. Mark Warner, D-Virginia.