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Many Food Workers in the U.S. Capitol Building Need Second Jobs to Make Ends Meet

Typically, the workers earn less than $11 per hour.


Lawmakers in Washington, DC may make hundreds of thousands of dollars each year, but the people that feed them lunch are barely scraping by. According to the Associated Press, many of the Capitol's food servers — i.e. those who cook the meals, bus tables, man the cash registers, and more — typically earn under $11 per hour. While members of Congress get their paycheck regardless of whether they take a break or not, the food service workers are often not paid when Congress is in recess. This year, Congress is scheduled to be in recess for 13 weeks. Because of this, it's very common for food service employees to have second jobs to make ends meet.

Many of the workers make just a little bit above the $10.10 hourly minimum wage for federal contractors. Some employees receive an additional few dollars per hour in cash, instead of health insurance or any other benefits. Many can barely afford to pay rent or purchase a car. Employees tell the AP that pay raises are not very common and can be as low as three cents per hour. One worker reveals that she works at KFC on the weekends because it "pays her better."  While those who have worked at the capitol for at least seven years make $16 to $17, they also often engage in side jobs.

Restaurant Associates — the contractor in charge of food service at the Capitol — tells the AP that it "takes pride in paying above-market competitive wages." They fail to mention that "above market" means just a handful of cents above the minimum wage. Bertrand Olotara, a cook for the Senate writes in the Guardian, "I serve food to some of the most powerful people on Earth... They often talk of expanded opportunity for workers but most don't seem to notice or care that workers in their own building are struggling to survive."

The Capitol food service workers are not alone in their struggle to make ends meet. A study shows that nearly 52 percent of fast food workers must rely on government assistance. The cost of the assistance goes back on the public. While McDonald's pays its workers minimum wage, taxpayers help fund programs like food stamps and medicaid upon which its employees rely on heavily.