Workers At Food Court Owned By Federal Government Allege They’ve Been Cheated Out Of $3 Million

CREDIT: Flickr user guvnah

The downstairs food court at Washington, D.C.'s Union Station is staffed by low-wage workers paid with federal dollars.

Service workers at a federally-owned building in Washington, D.C., have been subject to chronic wage theft totaling $3 million in unpaid earnings from the companies the government pays to maintain the food court at the District’s central train station, according to an official complaint filed with the Department of Labor on Wednesday.

Union Station food court workers have been paid wages far below the federal minimum hourly rate and been made to work “60 to 70-hour work-weeks without payment of overtime,” the complaint says. The Union Station workers allege that on average they have lost more than a quarter of their legal pay per person per year — “almost $10,000 per year” per worker, according to a press release from Good Jobs Nation. That group has been representing and organizing federally contracted low-wage workers like these since early last year, and led workers out on strike from federal buildings in D.C. on multiple occasions in 2013.

If the Department of Labor responds to Wednesday’s complaint by investigating, it will be the second inquiry into wage and hour violations by federally contracted companies at D.C. buildings. Good Jobs Nation previously filed a similar complaint against companies at the Ronald Reagan Building, another federally-owned property serviced by private companies that won government contracts. The government has been investigating that complaint since August.

So far that is the only federal action on behalf of the workers Good Jobs Nation represents, but the group points out that President Obama could raise the pay of these workers without congressional approval. His administration has avoided taking a public position on the matter despite receiving a strongly worded letter from 17 House progressives urging action back in July. Accordingly, the government continues to be a larger employer of poverty-wage workers than Walmart and McDonald’s combined.

Overall, wage theft like that alleged by Union Station and Reagan Building workers steals more money each year than the combined haul of every store holdup and bank robbery nationwide. As of last November, three of the four largest American cities had passed laws to punish wage and hour violators with both fines and revoked business licenses. But the problem remains severe and widespread, with even states like California that have relatively strict systems in place to fight wage theft proving ineffective at recouping what bosses steal from their workers.