Dozens of Senate dining workers are once again facing the prospect of losing their jobs.
The employees were told in a meeting Wednesday with contractor Restaurant Associates that they could either take jobs on George Washington University’s campus or be laid off.
“As a valued associate, we hope you will remain part of our larger team in the D.C. area,” the letter told the workers. If they “decline this job opportunity,” the letter said their last day of work would be July 28.
The company gave notice to 38 workers who serve food in the Senate and 18 who work in the Capitol Visitor Center, according to Susan Valentine, political director of UNITE HERE, the labor union that represents the workers.
The action came as a surprise to officials at the Architect of the Capitol, which manages the contract with Restaurant Associates.
“The AOC was surprised and very disappointed to learn about Restaurant Associates’ stark communication to their employees today,” spokeswoman Christine Leonard said in an email. “We’re also frustrated with the company’s tactics.”
The union was voluntarily recognized by Restaurant Associates last year. The contractor later reached a deal to raise workers’ pay and provide more benefits — if the Senate shouldered some of the costs.
In April, lawmakers secured $3.75 million in already-appropriated pandemic funding to keep 81 dining employees on the payroll after they were given layoff notices. The notices were sent out after a previous round of pandemic aid had run dry.
The contractor’s decision to give workers notices Wednesday was preceded by a memo AOC officials sent to Restaurant Associates officials in late June with a modification to the contract related to the new pandemic funding.
The memo said the architect’s office was not guaranteeing the funds obligated would cover payroll through the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30, “nor does the AOC guarantee additional funds will be made available; thus, the contractor shall manage payroll and staffing to begin to right-size their organization as soon as possible.”
Leonard said Wednesday that the AOC had not suggested to Restaurant Associates that the money would run out before then.
“As long as the National Health Emergency continues, the AOC has communicated clearly that funds are available for Restaurant Associates to support these workers through the end of this fiscal year,” she said. “Between now and then, the AOC will be in continued communications to convey strongly that lay-offs are unnecessary.”
The Senate’s contract with Restaurant Associates to serve food in both the Senate dining facilities and the CVC runs through December 2022.
Leonard said the AOC is focused on a long-term solution to find a balance between the fair treatment of workers and quality service.
The union has called on Restaurant Associates and the AOC to adjust the contract and shift to a fee-for-service model that would be more transparent.
“We don't need just another short-term reprieve from layoffs,” UNITE HERE’s Valentine said.
Restaurant Associates did not immediately respond to a request for comment.