Contracted workers at the U.S. Department of Education, the National Park Service and the National Zoo have filed a complaint seeking $1.6 million in unpaid wages under the U.S. Service Contract Act.
Some contracted workers who are part of the suit include low-wage janitors who clean federal buildings, bus drivers who lead tours of national parks and groundskeepers who maintain federal property. They’re organizing under the banner of Good Jobs Nation.
According to the complaint, cleaners at the Department of Education headquarters reported being paid between $9 and $10 an hour without benefits in violation of the SCA janitorial wage rate of $11.83 an hour plus $4.02 per hour in benefits. Tour bus drivers with the Department of Interior’s National Park Service in the nation’s capital are paid around $16 per hour, but the SCA rate for drivers is $20.85. Likewise, Smithsonian National Zoo groundskeepers are paid $9.50 an hour while the SCA wage rate for their position is $13.07.
“[Education] Secretary [Arne] Duncan says ‘we need a Race to the Top’ on education. Well, we need a ‘Race to the Top’ on wages for our kids,” said Sonia Chavez, a contract worker who cleans the office of Education Secretary Arne Duncan. “We’re struggling to give our kids food, shelter and the good education they need for a better future. We recently received an eviction notice because we can’t afford the rent. We’re scared that we’ll end up on the streets. And even though we work four jobs, we have to use food stamps to put food on the table.”
Chavez said that wage theft forces her husband to work extra jobs and receive public aid as well. Her husband is also a contract janitor.
In a letter sent to the Department of Labor, the organizers note how the cycle of poverty continues through these actions.
“That these violations are occurring at high-profile locations in the heart of the nation’s capital—including a Cabinet Department headquarters, at the monuments of the National Mall and at the National Zoo—suggests that deliberate evasion of the SCA, and likely other labor protections, is rife both in Washington, D.C., and throughout the country,” read the complaint. “More importantly, the effect of the violations described below has been to keep dozens of working Americans in hardship and poverty.”
In a new research study published by Good Jobs Nation called “The Return of the Federal Sweatshop? How America’s Broken Contract Wage Laws Fail America’s Workers,” contract wage laws, such as the SCA, haven’t fulfilled their purpose of stopping the federal government from not using its purchasing power to support the creation of poverty-wage jobs in the private sector because of falling wage rates, loopholes in contract wage laws and weak enforcement of those already on the books.