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NLRB Finds Retaliation After Capitol Food Worker Strike

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The National Labor Relations Board has found that the Capitol’s food-service vendor likely violated labor laws when supervisors retaliated against workers who went on strike.

In two separate cases, the NLRB found merit in allegations of retaliation, which included charges of interrogation and coercive statements. Workers in the Capitol Visitor Center and the Dirksen Senate Office Building filed unfair labor practice charges against Restaurant Associates in April and May, respectively, following an April 22 strike for higher wages and union representation.

After the cases were filed, the NLRB proceeded with an investigation, which included conducting confidential interviews with the workers involved. The NLRB found all but one of the charges, which was voluntarily withdrawn, had merit, and the parties involved reached a settlement on July 31.

In the CVC case, workers alleged their manager threatened their jobs; required them to work later “without reasonable or customary notice;” imposed more onerous duties on the workers who participated in the strike; stated the striking workers were unreliable; and ordered employees not to speak with representatives of Good Jobs Nation, a coalition of labor groups that has been organizing the federal worker strikes.

The Dirksen Senate Office Building case involved a worker whose supervisor allegedly questioned him about his involvement with the labor organizers, and made statements about what it would mean for the worker’s family if he lost his job.

After the NLRB found merit in the charges, the parties agreed to a settlement. Restaurant Associates spokesman Sam Souccar wrote in a Monday email that the organization agreed to settle the case rather than go to trial.

“Restaurant Associates continues to respect all employee rights including the right to engage in or refrain from protected concerted activity,” Souccar wrote. “Toward that end we have agreed to reassure employees of this long-standing policy rather than engage in contentious and prolonged litigation.”

But for labor organizers and the workers, the settlement was an admission of guilt.

“It’s ironic that Congress passed labor laws that they don’t follow at the U.S. Capitol,” said Joseph Geevarghese, deputy director of Change to Win, a coalition of unions backing the Good Jobs Nation campaign. Good Jobs Nation also filed the unfair labor practice charges on behalf of the Capitol workers.

“The Senate must guarantee that contractors uphold the right of workers to organize free from threats and intimidation,” Geevarghese added, in an apparent nod to the Senate food service contract with Restaurant Associates that is currently being renegotiated.

According to the settlement documents obtained by CQ Roll Call, Restaurant Associates is required to post notices for 60 consecutive days in an area “where the Charged Party customarily posts notices to employees,” such as a break room, and on the company’s intranet.

Both notices for Dirksen and the CVC list workers’ rights under federal law, which include forming, joining or assisting a union; choosing a bargaining representative; acting “together with other employees for your benefit and protection;” and choosing not to participate in the organizing activities.

The Dirksen notice includes four actions that Restaurant Associates “WILL NOT” take against employees who participate in the organizing activities, which include not asking about organizing activities and not telling workers they are more likely to get fired or lose pay or benefits for joining a union.

In the CVC, the notice includes eight actions the company will not take, including pledging not to interfere with conversations with Good Jobs Nation organizers during breaks; not refer to workers who went on strike as “the wrong crowd” or “unreliable;” and not to threaten employees with “unspecified reprisals.”

Kellie Duckett, one of the CVC workers who filed the charges, said in a phone interview she was pleasantly surprised that the NLRB found that the allegations were true.

“I was happy,” Duckett said. “I didn’t think that it was going to go as we planned, but it turned [out] it went better than we planned.”

Duckett participated in the April strike, as well as a strike on July 22, which included 40 Capitol workers (the highest number so far) who walked off their jobs. She said her manager did not retaliate against her after the most recent strike, but that the NLRB’s findings bolster their cause.

“Since we did the [unfair labor practice] and everything, they’ve seen that what we’re saying is in fact true,” Duckett said. “That could be proof as of what needs to change.”

“The pay, for one, and then, two, we need a union,” Duckett added. “We need to be able to have a voice.”

Clarification 4:28 p.m.

This article was updated to reflect more specific language regarding charges, per NLRB processes.

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