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The Senate's Cafeteria Workers Will Receive $1 Million After Charges of Labor Violations

Photo via Flickr user US Department of Education

Being a cafeteria worker is a damn thankless job. Not only do they have to wear hair nets, but they are regularly overworked, underappreciated, and forced to serve the same damn thing over and over again in some sort of endless assembly-line loop. If the majority of workers in the food industry are largely unappreciated—and they sure as hell are—then the average cafeteria worker may be the lowest of the low.

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Sadly, that even seems to be the case even when it comes to the cafeteria workers who work in the hallowed halls of the United States Senate.

The Labor Department announced earlier this week that hundreds of cafeteria workers employed to feed US senators will receive back pay totaling more than $1 million. That's because the private employers of said cafeteria workers have routinely underpaid them.

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In addition to ordering compensation for blatant labor violations, the Labor Department's Wage and Hour Division is conducting a review as to whether or not it should ban the contractor, Restaurant Associates, and its subcontractor, Personnel Plus, from future government contracts. Restaurant Associates happens to be part of the world's largest contract foodservice company in the world, Compass Group.

A year-long Labor Department probe uncovered numerous violations. The Wage and Hour Division stated that Restaurant Associates and its subcontractor had not only classified Senate cafeteria workers for lower-paid positions than they actually held, but they forced workers to report early to work without giving them any extra pay. Additionally, they are charged with not keeping complete employee records and not paying for either health and welfare benefits or proper overtime. To make matters worse, some workers were not paid when Congress was in recess.

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Thanks to the investigation, workers can expect to receive about $1,500 each on average.

"Workers in the restaurant industry are among the lowest-paid workers in our economy," wrote the Labor Department's administrator, David Weil. "Most struggle to afford life's basic expenses and pay their bills. They shouldn't have to deal with paychecks that don't accurately reflect their hard work."

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Restaurant Associates says it misclassified the cafeteria workers thanks to "administrative technicalities" relating to their "evolving day-to-day work responsibilities." The senior vice president for creative services, Sam Souccar, said in a statement that Restaurant Associates has since rectified the error and has improved monitoring and training. He went on to say that Restaurant Associates considers its employees "the heart of our business and we value and respect them. We conduct business in a professional, safe, ethical and responsible manner."

Robert Guiney, the acting president of Personnel Plus, told the Associated Press in an email that his company contests the Labor Department's determination. "We did not do anything wrong, and we do not have to pay a dime of any back wages."

In any event, the workers are getting some recompense. Finally, a little justice for cafeteria workers—if only Chris Farley were still around to witness this important day.