Skip to content

House cafeteria workers get better pay, protections under union deal

Sodexo had ‘no choice but to listen,’ one member of the bargaining committee says

House dining workers are looking to the future after finalizing a new collective bargaining agreement with Sodexo. Above, Unite Here union members hold signs near the Capitol in support of Senate cafeteria workers on July 20, 2022.
House dining workers are looking to the future after finalizing a new collective bargaining agreement with Sodexo. Above, Unite Here union members hold signs near the Capitol in support of Senate cafeteria workers on July 20, 2022. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

A little over a year ago, House cafeteria workers with Unite Here Local 23 were contemplating protests and pickets if negotiations with Sodexo turned sour. Now, they’re celebrating a new contract that raises wages and improves working conditions.

“It started out, we were all thinking it was going to be tough,” said Rickie Toon, who has worked on the Hill since the 1980s and currently is a cook in the Ford House Office Building. 

But that quickly changed. Student protesters from Howard University, as well as union members from other locals, gathered outside a bargaining meeting last year, early in the negotiation process. That set the tone for relatively quick talks that delivered the cafeteria workers — who keep Congress fed — a series of wins.

“Just to see the support from other people coming in and helping us out. The company had no choice but to listen,” said Toon, a member of the unit’s bargaining committee.

Notable in the new contract, which was ratified last month and applies to around 100 House cafeteria workers, is a $3 hourly pay bump in the first year and a raise of $7.50 over five years. By the end of the contract term, the lowest starting non-tipped wage will be $24.15 an hour.

“Even in D.C. that’s still not enough, as far as the cost of living, but what’s really important to our folks is that they’ll get free health insurance for the first time. That’s huge,” said Marlene Patrick-Cooper, president of Unite Here Local 23.

Sodexo did not respond to a request for comment.

Single workers will have access to health insurance at no cost under the agreement beginning in 2026, according to Unite Here. The contract also includes increased pension contributions, and the union touted wins for trans and nonbinary workers, along with protections for employees who are victims of family or intimate partner violence, sexual assault or stalking.

The action on the House side comes after Senate cafeteria workers — also represented by Unite Here — ratified their first agreement with Restaurant Associates in 2022. Senate cafeteria workers only recently organized, while House workers have been unionized for years. When Sodexo took over control of the House dining operations in 2015, the French multinational retained existing staff and voluntarily recognized the union.

Sodexo runs House dining facilities like the Capitol Market, the Longworth and Rayburn cafeterias, and branded shops like the Au Bon Pain in Cannon. Sodexo’s contract with the Office of the Chief Administrative Officer is up for renewal in 2025, when the CAO could either terminate the deal, renegotiate or exercise an extension option.

Joseph Smith, who has worked in the Longworth cafeteria for almost a year, said the new deal met workers’ demands.

“We were all pretty satisfied with the new contract and excited about the raises coming in the next couple of months as well as future benefits,” Smith said. “We’re all just looking forward to what’s next.” 

Jim Saksa contributed to this report.

Recent Stories

Spared angry protests at Morehouse, Biden pushes post-war Gaza plan

Capitol Lens | Duck dodgers

Election year politics roil the EV transition

Thompson’s animal welfare, whole milk priorities in farm bill

Schumer plans vote on border security bill that GOP blocked

Republicans look to reverse rule based on gun law they backed