WASHINGTON – A workers’ rights group Wednesday filed a complaint with the Department of Labor challenging low pay of food court workers at Washington’s Union Station, then the workers and activists joined together for a protest at the famed railway station to push for higher wages for U.S. workers.
The workers “have suffered serious, deliberate and systematic wage theft,” said Joseph Geevarghese, deputy director at Change to Win, a workers advocacy organization and one of several involved in the protest. “The complaint alleges federal criminal activity.”
About 60 Union Station shop employees and supporters from various organizations gathered to protest low wages at Washi, in the Union Station food court.
Robert Gallardo, an organizer for Change to Win, said many Union Station food court workers are immigrants, and employers sometimes take advantage of them.
“If they complain, they (the employers) fire them,” Gallardo said. “This is why we organize.”
The Labor Department complaint coincides with a push by the groups and some Democrats urging President Barack Obama to raise minimum wage through executive order, Geevarghese said at a press conference.
Tibebe Ayela, a worker at China Kitchen restaurant in Union Station, said he could not leave his low-paying job because he did not have any other better options.
“So I put up with being treated like a slave,” Ayela said. “No one should be treated the way I was.”
Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., the co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said it is time to “pressure the president” to increase minimum wage, which is now $7.25 per hour. Senate Democratic leaders have proposed a measure to boost the hourly wage to $10.10 over two years and plan a full Senate vote next month.
But Ellison and the workers’ advocates say Obama can do it now by executive order.
“The president can raise the pay of 2 million people right now,” Ellison said at a press conference.