They work in the halls of power.  But Senate dining workers are 'still struggling'

They work in the halls of power. But Senate dining workers are ‘still struggling’

Before the pandemic hit, Rojas worked up to five days a week for Restaurant Associates and made ends meet with a second job. These days, he’s taken a third and worries what the future will hold. The company has warned that layoff notices could be coming as soon as Friday, according to Diana Hussein, a spokeswoman for UNITE HERE Local 23.

While Rojas regularly caters to people whose words can change the world, “I know my line,” he said. When his father-in-law got COVID-19 and died, he was touched when some lawmakers offered sympathy and advice. But there are some topics he felt he couldn’t bring up, like how the boom-or-bust pace of the Capitol falls hardest on dining workers.

So, it was freeing for him to walk through the Senate office buildings earlier this month with a handful of colleagues, dropping off postcards for senators. “My coworkers and I need fair wages, affordable health insurance, a pension, and job security. I am asking for your support in securing these benefits,” the message read.

Restaurant Associates voluntarily recognized the union in November, and Rojas thinks a public show of support from those big-name diners could improve their position at the bargaining table, especially as pandemic relief money dries up.

Thanks to millions of dollars in federal aid, food workers in the Senate have so far avoided the worst-case scenario of mass layoffs. Rojas and others worked in rotation during the pandemic, and they even got paid for weeks they didn’t come in — for him, that meant 29 hours at his hourly wage of $22, not enough to cover all his expenses, but more than some of his colleagues.

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