Senators announce funding for Capitol cafeteria staff in effort to keep away from layoffs

WASHINGTON — A gaggle of Democratic senators mentioned Wednesday they’d secured funding that might stop greater than 80 Senate cafeteria staff from dropping their jobs within the subsequent 10 days.

Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and fellow Democrats advised a crowd of staff at a rally that the Architect of the Capitol’s workplace, which is in command of managing the contracts that make use of cafeteria staff, is anticipated to make use of $3.75 million from beforehand appropriated Covid aid funds to stop layoffs.

“When I see all your faces, I think about everything you’ve been through,” Klobuchar told workers picketing outside the Capitol. “You were here on the front line. You were here in the cafeteria…It was really hard and you hung in there for us.”

Klobuchar is chair of the Senate Rules Committee, which oversees the Architect of the Capitol.

But even with Wednesday’s announcement, it isn’t clear if the funding is a achieved deal.

Restaurant Associates, the federal contractor that employs the cafeteria staff, mentioned it had not acquired affirmation that the extra funding wanted to keep away from layoffs was on its approach.

“While we haven’t yet received official word from the Architect of the Capitol we’re very encouraged by this report,” the company said in a statement.

After the coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S. in March 2020, the Capitol was closed to tourists and visitors, with just a limited footprint of lawmakers, staffers and journalists in the otherwise buzzing complex. That led to the temporary closure of several dining halls on the Capitol grounds.

An empty Senate cafeteria.
An empty Senate cafeteria.Frank Thorp V / NBC News

The Capitol began reopening to visitors on March 28, but employees of Restaurant Associates said they were informed last week that about half of the 175 workers in Senate cafeterias would lose their jobs on April 15 due to funding shortfalls.

“Since the pandemic-related funding has been exhausted and the number of people we have been serving is a small fraction of what it was, we must make these difficult decisions,” a spokesperson for Restaurant Associates advised NBC News earlier than the introduced deal.

When reached for comment, a spokesperson for the Architect of the Capitol said, “The objective is to proceed working with Restaurant Associates to be sure that they’re conscious of the AOC’s dedication to try to resume operations and to keep away from any layoffs, if that’s doable.”

After receiving the layoff notification plans, workers sought out help from senators. On Monday, cafeteria employees personally lobbied senators, going door-to-door in the Senate office buildings and pleading with lawmakers.

“Everybody needs this job. Everybody’s having issues at home,” Mariel Nascimemto, a supervisor in the Dirksen Senate Office cafeteria said Wednesday. “We have to deal with this. We need it.”

A Senate cafeteria worker protests near the U.S. Capitol earlier this week.
A Senate cafeteria worker protests near the U.S. Capitol earlier this week.Frank Thorp V / NBC News

While they’re grateful for what appears to be a temporary solution to avoid layoffs, the workers — members of the UNITE HERE Local 23 union — say they still need a permanent funding fix.

“It’s frustrating, but at the end of the day, we got through it. We were very fortunate that the senators were able to give us the money,” Anthony Thomas, a Dirksen cafeteria worker, told NBC News. “Hopefully they can appropriate enough money to…make us feel like they really care about us.”

As major unionization efforts are underway across the country, Senate cafeteria workers are not the only employees on Capitol Hill calling for improved working conditions. In recent weeks, House staffers have pushed to unionize amid long hours, relatively low wages and a lack of workplace diversity.

“We shouldn’t be treating any worker as just a disposable cog in a machine,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., who attended Wednesday’s rally. “We value who they are and that they provide for their families.”

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