Pentagon Cafeteria Workers Faced Retaliation From Managers After Going On Strike

Alan Pyke

Alan Pyke Deputy Economic Policy Editor, Think Progress

Food service managers at the Pentagon have been illegally retaliating against workers for going on strike, attorneys for the National Labor Relations Board have found.

Multiple employees at a Pentagon cafeteria managed by Seven Hills, Inc., participated in strikes alongside other federal contract workers across the Washington, D.C., area in recent years. The campaign is the first of its kind, and has already won the support of the Obama administration in both word and deed.

Some of the striking Pentagon workers were later reprimanded for missing work, had their schedules cut by managers, and faced discipline for telling customers about having their hours cut. Managers also stifled the workers’ organizing activity by threatening to fire people who joined the strikes or wore stickers in support of the actions. At least two workers were ultimately fired for striking, according to the agency.

The labor agency wants to force Seven Hills, Inc., to hold a meeting with staff at Department of Defense (DOD) headquarters to spell out the workers’ rights to collective action without reprisals. The company, which did not respond to a call for comment, will have a chance to argue its case to an administrative law judge before the charges are finalized.

The dispute involves numerous frontline food service workers at a handful of chain fast-food restaurants operated by Seven Hills inside the Pentagon. While they are employees of Seven Hills, they are working for American taxpayers: The company is one of many federal contractors whose workers have mounted a campaign for higher wages and better working conditions for nearly three years.

The intermittent strikes by federally contracted service employees overlap with a broader national campaign by low-wage fast food and retail workers that has helped reset the national political conversation about the minimum wage.

The campaigns are organized through different channels and have different targets, but each has notched some wins. The Fight for $15 has watched minimum wage hikes sweep the country and seen its cause embraced by both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, and contract workers won both verbal endorsement and executive action from the White House.

But amid those victories, some contractors have violated workers’ labor rights, mostly by firing workers who participate in the strikes or cutting back their hours.

Seven Hills operates a relatively new food court in the building, nicknamed Wedge 1 by the Navy Exchange Service Command (NEXCOM) that is in charge of the department’s food service contracts. NEXCOM declined to provide ThinkProgress with any information about its contract with Seven Hills, but the facility it operates at DOD headquarters opened less than two years ago.

Labor law violations by companies that make money from government contracts is not limited to federal cafeterias, of course. American taxpayers spend nearly half a trillion dollars each year on contracts for goods and services from the private sector, and the largest contractors routinely appear atop listings of major fines for wage theft and workplace safety violations.

Strikers like the ones who faced retaliation at the Pentagon have helped force these issues into the public eye, with significant consequences. President Obama has issued multiple executive orders designed to deliver higher wages and better workplace protections to workers who sweat to fulfill federal contracts.

But progress is fragile, and Republican majorities in Congress are already pushing to negate Obama’s actions.

In theory, Seven Hills will have to disclose its history of labor law violations the next time it applies for a contract to work with the Department of Defense. One of the executive orders would force companies who bid on government work to disclose any recent violations of workplace safety, wage-and-hour, and other labor laws, so that contract officers know who they’re getting into bed with before they commit taxpayer money to private profit.

But the GOP wants to exempt all DOD contractors from that disclosure rule, allowing such violations to remain in the shadows. Rather than debate that policy idea in open session, however, conservatives on the hill simply attached it as a rider on the massive Pentagon funding bill currently moving through both houses of Congress. With political pressure to sign the National Defense Authorization Act high, they hope to win Obama’s signature on a measure that would reverse his own actions to protect civilian workers who keep the Pentagon humming.

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Reposted from ThinkProgress.

Alan Pyke is the Deputy Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress.org. Before coming to ThinkProgress, he was a blogger and researcher with a focus on economic policy and political advertising at Media Matters for America, American Bridge 21st Century Foundation, and PoliticalCorrection.org. He previously worked as an organizer on various political campaigns from New Hampshire to Georgia to Missouri. His writing on music and film has appeared on TinyMixTapes, IndieWire’s Press Play, and TheGrio, among other sites.

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