More than two dozen Senate aides boycotted the crab cakes and panzanella salad on the menu at the Senate cafeteria Wednesday, bringing their lunches to work in solidarity with a union drive among the cafeteria employees.
Organizers hope Wednesday's action will become a weekly boycott.
One senator, Democrat Sherrod Brown of Ohio, joined the boycott. Brown brought his own lunch and visited the cafeteria to speak with some of the workers, according to organizers and cafeteria workers who witnessed the boycott.
Senate cafeteria workers have been trying to form a union as part of a broader push to organize workers in private companies with federal contracts. Although it is located on federal property, the Senate cafeteria is managed by a private employer, Restaurant Associates.
Cafeteria worker Charles Gladden, 63, said he was encouraged by the personal show of support. “I thought it was great because it shows solidarity, it shows that they acknowledge us,” Gladden said. “They came down and supported us physically as opposed to just putting out a memo.”
Workers associated with the union drive allege that Restaurant Associates has illegally retaliated against people trying to form a union. Gladden said he has seen the company punish other workers affiliated with the drive by giving them long and unpredictable hours.
The labor group Good Jobs Nation, which is leading the campaign to organize federally contracted workers, has also accused the company’s president of personally intimidating and shaming workers associated with the campaign during a company staff meeting.
Restaurant Associates did not reply to multiple requests for comment.
Brown has publicly expressed his support for the Senate cafeteria workers in the past. In August, he met with four of the cafeteria workers and issued a letter, co-signed by more than 40 of his colleagues, urging the leaders of the Senate Rules Committee to investigate the allegations of anti-union harassment.
“The U.S. Senate should lead by example and ensure good benefits and wages for those who work in these buildings,” Brown said in a statement accompanying the letter.
Sources among both the union organizers and the Senate aides have said that the staffers, not Good Jobs Nation, organized the boycott. Aides working for several Democratic senators participated, but none was willing to go on the record to discuss a protest not connected with their official work.