For immediate release
September 13, 2022
UNITE HERE Local 23 Sodexo workers at House of Representatives and other DC federal buildings say “we feed the government, we need to feed our families, too”
Washington, D.C. — Sodexo workers rallied near the House of Representatives building today, educating the politicians they serve and the DC community about the financial struggles and unequal treatment they face as federal subcontracted food service workers. Workers at the nation’s largest federal food service contractor Sodexo report their wages aren’t matching the massive increase in the cost of housing and food.
Hospitality union UNITE HERE Local 23 represents more than 300 Sodexo workers at cafeterias at the House of Representatives, the FBI, Fannie Mae, and other federal buildings. Federal subcontracted food service workers receive lower pay and fewer benefits than other federal workers. While receiving some protections via the McNamara-O’Hara Service Contract Act (SCA), it’s still not enough to keep subcontracted food service workers feeding their families.
Sodexo workers at DC federal buildings say they have been struggling to afford the basics as the cost of living continues to rise. Based on current wage information, the lowest paid non-tipped Sodexo workers in the House of Representatives earn D.C.’s minimum wage of $16.10 an hour. To avoid paying more than 30 percent of their monthly income at minimum wage, they would need to work 85 hours a week to afford a 2-bedroom apartment at the D.C. fair market monthly rent price of $1,785. Working full time at 40 hours per week, these Sodexo workers would spend 64% of their income on this apartment. Staple food items have also risen steeply in DC. From July 2021 to July 2022, the price of a dozen eggs increased 83%.1
“Last year in September, I had to move out of a house I’d been in for 14 years because I couldn’t afford to keep up with rent,” said Venorica Tucker, a banquet server/bartender at the House of Representatives. “I live with my son, so we chip in and try to make it. It’s difficult, even with their help.”
At the rally, workers honored the legacy of Black food service workers before them struggling for higher pay and respect –like when dining workers, then employed by GSI, struck in 1948 holding signs reading “Fight Against GSI Slavery.”
“Our members feed DC but have to worry about the cost of groceries. For far too long, the people who serve food at our government’s institutions have had to make due with less. Now with prices skyrocketing it’s a whole lot less our members have for their families,” said Marlene Patrick Cooper, President of UNITE HERE Local 23. “We pay tribute to our predecessors, the Black workers who fought hard to raise standards as kitchen and cafeteria workers in our nation’s capital. We won’t stop until we reach the equality they fought for and we level the playing field. We’re not new to this, we’re true to this.”
Sodexo is the nation’s largest federal food service contractor — serving 45.6 million meals annually to more than 160 military and U.S. Federal Government locations in 28 states. Union contracts with Sodexo are set to expire next year. Last week, Sodexo food service workers with an expired contract picketed their employer at the New York Federal Reserve building to demand a new contract with wages that keep up with inflation.
UNITE HERE Local 23 represents 25,000 hospitality workers from universities and museums, to airport concessions, hotel and parking attendants. Local 23 members are active in Georgia, Mississippi, Charlotte, Nashville, DC, Boise, Indiana, Denver, New Orleans, Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Virginia.