Category Archives: Federal

Are Private Prisons Using Forced Labor?

Source: Josh Eidelson, Bloomberg Business Week, November 8, 2017 

On Nov. 15 the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver will hear arguments in a case that could change the future of the $5 billion private prison industry. Judges will decide whether a district court was correct in February when it certified a class action on behalf of around 60,000 current and former detainees who are suing Geo Group Inc., one of the largest U.S. private prison companies, for allegedly violating federal anti-trafficking laws by coercing them to work for free under threat of solitary confinement. The case was first filed in 2014 by a group of immigrants who had been detained at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility run by Geo in Aurora, Colo. Their key claim rests on the assertion that Geo violated the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, a law designed to stop human trafficking—a scourge many associate with sexual exploitation by gangs, not with government contractors’ treatment of detained immigrants. Their lawsuit argues that Geo violated the law’s prohibition on using threats to obtain labor. …

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How a Private Prison Company Used Detained Immigrants for Free Labor
Source: Madison Pauly, Mother Jones, April 3, 2017

… The GEO Group, the private prison company that operates Aurora, allegedly forced more than 50,000 immigrants like Ortiz to work without pay or for $1 a day since 2004, according to a lawsuit that nine detainees brought against the company in 2014. On February 27, a federal judge ruled that their case could proceed as a class action, breathing new life into a suit that exposes the extent to which the for-profit company relied on cheap or unpaid detainee labor to minimize costs at the Aurora facility. … GEO incarcerates more immigrants (and receives more public money to do so) than any other detention center operator, according to an analysis by the anti-detention group CIVIC. And its business detaining immigrants for ICE is only expected to grow “with this increased and expanded approach to border security,” CEO George Zoley said in a February earnings call. …

Thousands of ICE detainees claim they were forced into labor, a violation of anti-slavery laws
Source: Kristine Phillips, Washington Post, March 5, 2017

Tens of thousands of immigrants detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement were forced to work for $1 day, or for nothing at all — a violation of federal anti-slavery laws — a lawsuit claims.  The lawsuit, filed in 2014 against one of the largest private prison companies in the country, reached class-action status this week after a federal judge’s ruling. That means the case could involve as many as 60,000 immigrants who have been detained.  It’s the first time a class-action lawsuit accusing a private U.S. prison company of forced labor has been allowed to move forward. … At the heart of the dispute is the Denver Contract Detention Facility, a 1,500-bed center in Aurora, Colo., owned and operated by GEO Group under a contract with ICE. The Florida-based corporation runs facilities to house immigrants who are awaiting their turn in court. … The lawsuit, filed against GEO Group on behalf of nine immigrants, initially sought more than $5 million in damages. Attorneys expect the damages to grow substantially given the case’s new class-action status. … The original nine plaintiffs claim that detainees at the ICE facility are forced to work without pay — and that those who refuse to do so are threatened with solitary confinement. Specifically, the lawsuit claims, six detainees are selected at random every day and are forced to clean the facility’s housing units. The lawsuit claims that the practice violates the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which prohibits modern-day slavery. … GEO Group also is accused of violating Colorado’s minimum wage laws by paying detainees $1 day instead of the state’s minimum wage of about $9 an hour. The company “unjustly enriched” itself through the cheap labor of detainees, the lawsuit says.

… The class-action ruling by Kane, a senior judge in the U.S. District Court in Colorado, came at a critical time, DiSalvo said, noting President Trump’s pledge to deport 2 million to 3 million undocumented immigrants. Advocates say private prison companies that have government contracts stand to benefit significantly from the president’s hard-line policy of detaining and deporting a massive number of immigrants. … Notably, the stocks of the two biggest private prison operators, Geo Group and CoreCivic (formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America), have surged since Trump’s election. The companies donated a total of $500,000 to Trump’s inaugural festivities, USA Today reported. Since Trump took office, his administration has reversed the Obama administration’s policy to end the country’s reliance on private prisons. … Under ICE’s Voluntary Work Program, detainees sign up to work and are paid $1 a day. … Jacqueline Stevens, who runs Northwestern University’s Deportation Research Clinic, said the program does not meet the criteria for what qualifies as volunteer work under labor laws. … Prison labor, Stevens added, has two purposes: to punish prisoners after they’ve been convicted of a crime and to rehabilitate them. Those don’t apply to immigrant detainees, she said. … In 2015, Kane, the federal judge, partially denied the motion to dismiss. Although he agreed with GEO Group that Colorado’s minimum wage law is inapplicable, he ruled that the other claims can stand. … Kane granted class-action status a few days after the Justice Department directed the Bureau of Prisons to, again, use private prisons, a significant shift from the Obama-era policy of significantly reducing — and ultimately ending — their use. …

The “Amazon Amendment” Would Effectively Hand Government Purchasing Power Over to Amazon

Source: David Dayen, The Intercept, November 2, 2017

… Instead of getting yelled at by lawmakers, Amazon is on the verge of winning a multibillion-dollar advantage over retail rivals by taking over large swaths of federal procurement. Language buried in Section 801 of the House-passed version of the National Defense Authorization Act, which is being hashed out in a conference committee with the Senate, would move Defense Department purchases of commercial off-the-shelf products to “online marketplaces.” Theoretically, that means any website that offers an array of options for paper clips or office furniture; in reality that signals likely dominance for Amazon Business, the company’s commercial sales platform. Section 801 stipulates that the program should be designed “to enable Government-wide use of such marketplaces.” Scale, then, is key. Over time, this change would give platforms like Amazon access to all $53 billion in federal government commercial item purchases.

… “It seems like Amazon wrote it,” said Stacy Mitchell of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, which has written critical reports about Amazon in the past. “It will accelerate the transfer of more and more government spending to Amazon.” The online marketplace provision, which still has to get through a House-Senate conference, coincides with a significant ramp-up for Amazon Business, which only launched in 2015. … But federal procurement is the holy grail, the lucrative market to tap. Perhaps that’s why, for the head of Amazon Business’s public sector division, the company hired Anne Rung, who ran the Office of Management and Budget’s Office of Federal Procurement Policy until fall 2016. This made Rung effectively the top purchasing officer in the United States. … Indeed, Section 801 has been informally dubbed the “Amazon amendment,” and experts believe only one or two companies would have the wherewithal to participate. That means monopoly or duopoly control of $53 billion in federal purchasing. The online marketplaces, which can be given no-bid contracts, explicitly eliminate the need for government procurement officers to seek out competitive bids for commercial products. …

Education Dept. could scale back help on loans

Source: Maria Danilova, Associated Press, October 30, 2017
 
The Education Department is considering only partially forgiving federal loans for students defrauded by for-profit colleges, according to department officials, abandoning the Obama administration’s policy of erasing that debt.  Under President Barack Obama, tens of thousands of students deceived by now-defunct for-profit schools had over $550 million in such loans canceled.  But President Donald Trump’s education secretary, Betsy DeVos, is working on a plan that could grant such students just partial relief, according to department officials. The department may look at the average earnings of students in similar programs and schools to determine how much debt to wipe away. …

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States Sue Over Scrapping of Obama-Era Rules on For-Profit Colleges
Source: Douglas Belkin, Wall Street Journal, Oct. 17, 2017

A coalition of Democratic attorneys general from 18 states and the District of Columbia filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the U.S. Education Department and Secretary Betsy DeVos for not enforcing an Obama-era rule intended to protect students and taxpayers from predatory for-profit schools. In June, Mrs. DeVos suspended the so-called “gainful employment” rules before they took effect. If enacted they would have cut off federal funding for schools where students leave with high debt and end up in jobs with low salaries. The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., calls Mrs. DeVos’s suspension of those rules “unlawful” and accuses her of trying to “run out the clock” through a series of delays until she can implement new regulation…..

Trump and DeVos fuel a for-profit college comeback
Source: Michael Stratford, Politico, August 31, 2017
 
For-profit colleges are winning their battle to dismantle Obama-era restrictions as Education Secretary Betsy DeVos rolls back regulations, grants reprieves to schools at risk of losing their federal funding and stocks her agency with industry insiders.  More than seven months into the Trump administration, DeVos has: Moved to gut two major Obama-era regulations reviled by the industry that would have cut off funding to low-performing programs and made it easier for defrauded students to wipe out their loans; Appointed a former for-profit college official, Julian Schmoke Jr., to lead the team charged with policing fraud in higher education — one of a slew of industry insiders installed in key positions. …. Stopped approving new student-fraud claims brought against for-profit schools. The Education Department has a backlog of more than 65,000 applications from students seeking to have their loans forgiven on the grounds they were defrauded, some of which date to the previous administration. …

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White House says it’s considering increasing the federal gas tax for infrastructure

Source: Ashley Halsey III, Washington Post, October 26, 2017
 
The White House is revisiting an increase in the federal gas tax to pay for infrastructure improvements President Trump promised to deliver on the campaign trail.  That news was conveyed to House members Wednesday in a meeting by Trump’s chief economic adviser, Gary Cohn. … After campaigning on a promise he would lure private capital to invest in infrastructure, Trump in late April said he would be open to bumping up the federal gas tax, which has not seen an increase since 1993.  Some Democrats, notable among them Rep. Peter A. DeFazio (Ore.), ranking Democrat of the House Transportation Committee, have fought an upstream battle to increase the tax. …

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White House eyes 7-cent gas tax hike for infrastructure plan
Source: Melanie Zanona, The Hill, October 25, 2017
 
The White House may back the first hike in the federal gasoline tax in decades in order to pay for President Trump’s $1 trillion infrastructure package.    Trump’s economic adviser Gary Cohn told moderate House lawmakers at a private meeting on Wednesday that they’ll get a chance to vote on a gas tax hike early next year as part of an infrastructure bill, according to two lawmakers who were present. The discussion over the fuel tax during the meeting was first reported by Politico Playbook.  “Cohn seemed receptive to it,” one meeting participant told The Hill.  Separately, an industry source tells The Hill that the White House intends to back a 7-cent gas tax increase to pay for U.S. roads, bridges, highways and other public works, though it’s unclear if the proposal would be included in initial infrastructure legislation or if the administration will push to have it added at the committee level. …

Rural America looks to Trump to help with crumbling infrastructure
Source: Josh Siegel, Washington Examiner, October 16, 2017

Lawmakers and policy experts say the White House cannot forget rural America as it prepares to release the outlines of its infrastructure spending package. … The emphasis on partnerships worried proponents of rural infrastructure investment. Partnerships with private investors face tougher obstacles in rural areas, because it’s difficult for companies in places with smaller populations to generate the revenue needed to sustain the project. …

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Student Loan Industry Clashes With 25 States Over Probes

Source: Erik Larson and Shahien Nasiripour, Bloomberg, October 24, 2017
 
The U.S. student loan industry is trying to dodge state investigations into allegedly abusive practices by claiming they’re preempted by federal law, a bipartisan group of attorneys general claimed.  At least two national industry groups asked the Department of Education this year to issue formal guidance barring probes by states, arguing they duplicate federal efforts and needlessly expand regulations, according to copies of the letters obtained by Bloomberg News.  Half the nation is balking. Twenty-five states including Texas, New York, Kansas and California on Tuesday urged Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to reject the requests, arguing that state probes have been effective in returning tens of millions of dollars to borrowers in recent years. …

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Loans ‘Designed to Fail’: States Say Navient Preyed on Students
Source: Stacy Cowley and Jessica Silver-Greenberg, New York Times, April 9, 2017
 
In recent months, the student loan giant Navient, which was spun off from Sallie Mae in 2014 and retained nearly all of the company’s loan portfolio, has come under fire for aggressive and sloppy loan collection practices, which led to a set of government lawsuits filed in January. But those accusations have overshadowed broader claims, detailed in two state lawsuits filed by the attorneys general in Illinois and Washington, that Sallie Mae engaged in predatory lending, extending billions of dollars in private loans to students like Ms. Hardin that never should have been made in the first place. …

Navient Lawsuit Shatters GOP Privatization Myth
Source: David Dayen, The American Prospect, January 19, 2017

The Trump era is likely to usher in rapid privatization of public goods and services. … Behind these plans to sell off the public sector lies a philosophy that private enterprise can perform government roles more cheaply and efficiently. Perhaps nothing shatters this myth more than a lawsuit filed Wednesday against Navient, a company that administers payments on student loans. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and state attorneys general in Illinois and Washington state accuse Navient of “systematically and illegally failing borrowers at every stage of repayment,” using “shortcuts and deception” to rip off students. … Navient committed these alleged violations in part while fulfilling a federal contract for work that could indisputably have been performed by the public sector. … According to the complaint, Navient failed to correctly allocate borrower payments across multiple loans, sometimes ringing up late fees and defaults even when the borrower made the payment. The company steered borrowers into forbearance plans (a temporary break from payments) that increased interest due, rather than other repayment options. The CFPB estimates that $4 billion in unnecessary interest charges piled up on borrower accounts from 2010-2015 because of this. … The CFPB added that Navient gave student borrowers incorrect information for how to maintain eligibility for income-based repayment plans, which only take a sliver of a borrowers’ income every month. … But the Navient lawsuit doesn’t just reinforce why we need the CFPB. It shreds the argument for privatization, particularly of functions the government is perfectly capable of doing on its own. We could easily route student loan payments right to Uncle Sam. But instead, we push them through a predatory actor that needs to commit harm to make it worthwhile. …

Betsy DeVos’s Schedule Shows Focus on Religious and Nontraditional Schools

Source: Eric Lipton, New York Times, October 27, 2017
 
For years, Betsy DeVos traveled the country — and opened her checkbook — as she worked as a conservative advocate to promote the expansion of voucher programs that allow parents to use taxpayer funds to send their children to private and religious schools.  A detailed look at the first six months of Ms. DeVos’s tenure as the secretary of education — based on a 326-page calendar tracking her daily meetings — demonstrates that she continues to focus on those programs as well as on charter schools.  Her calendar is sprinkled with meetings with religious leaders, leading national advocates of vouchers and charter schools, and players involved in challenging state laws that limit the distribution of government funds to support religious or alternative schools. …

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DeVos prioritizes grants for school choice programs. But it won’t help all students.
Source: Elham Khatami, ThinkProgress, October 12, 2017

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos unveiled a document Thursday outlining her policy priorities, and while it comes as no surprise that she intends to steer more grant funding to school choice programs, it’s unlikely that the programs will be effective. School choice, or programs that provide alternatives to traditional public schools, has been at the center of DeVos’ national education policy since she was appointed to the Trump administration. Indeed, President Trump’s proposed 2017-2018 budget from earlier this year calls for $1.4 billion to support investments in school choice, including an additional $167 million for the Charter Schools Program and $250 million for a school voucher proposal geared toward private schools — all while proposing $9.2 billion in cuts from other federal education programs. …

Betsy DeVos’ 6-month report card: More undoing than doing
Source: Associated Press, August 10, 2017
 
Since the inauguration of Donald Trump, the news cycle has been dominated by stories of White House controversy: a travel ban, North Korea, health care and more.  Meanwhile, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has been busy fulfilling her conservative agenda that seeks to broaden school choice and market-based schooling in pre-K through higher education.  As a researcher of education policy and politics, I’ve been following Secretary DeVos’ first six months in office. Here’s a quick look at what’s she’s done – and what’s been left in limbo. …

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Private Prisons Boost Lobbying as Federal Detention Needs Grow

Source: Dean DeChlaro, Roll Call, October 25, 2017
 
One of the country’s largest private prison companies is spending record amounts on lobbying amid efforts by the Trump administration to detain more undocumented immigrants, federal records show.  The GEO Group, which has contracts with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Bureau of Prisons and the Marshals Service, has spent nearly $1.3 million on lobbying from Jan. 1 through Sept. 30, according to new lobbying records filed with Congress. That tops $1 million spent last year. The firm spent at least $400,000 on seven lobbying firms in the third quarter alone, the disclosures show.   GEO’s increased spending comes as ICE is seeking proposals for five new immigrant detention facilities and the Homeland Security Department is asking Congress to fund more than 51,000 beds, up from the current 34,000. ICE is the Florida-based prison company’s biggest customer, according to its 2016 annual report. …

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Immigrants Are Dying in U.S. Detention Centers. And It Could Get Worse.
Source: Brendan O’Boyle, Americas Quarterly, July 17, 2017

… Trump’s policies are already increasing the number of people held in detention centers, further straining the system. … The administration has signaled its commitment to private prison companies, which also operate immigrant detention centers. This alarms detainee advocates, since five out of the seven detainees who died this year were being held by privately operated providers, and multiple investigations have found privately operated prisons to be more dangerous for inmates. … As it pushes for more detentions, the Trump administration also reportedly has plans to weaken protections for immigrant detainees. …

Immigrant Deaths in Private Prisons Explode Under Trump
Source: Justin Glawe, Daily Beast, May 30, 2017

Men and women held by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement are on pace to die at double the rate of those who died in ICE custody last year, a Daily Beast review of ICE records found. And most will die in privately run facilities. Eight people have died in ICE custody in the 2017 fiscal year, which began on Oct. 1, 2016. That’s almost as many as the 10 who died in the entire 2016 fiscal year. All but one of the deaths this year, and all but two last year, occurred in privately run prisons. Nine of the 18 deaths occurred at facilities run by GEO Group, the nation’s second-largest private prison company. …

The problem with privatizing prisons
Source: Farah Mohammed, Daily JStor, May 15, 2017

… The theory behind private prisons has translated poorly into practice, however, and has been strongly criticized. Studies showed there were minimal savings compared to using public prisons. A scandal involving the murder of an Oklahoma couple by escaped inmates was linked to lax security at their private facility. Another private Ohio prison saw thirteen stabbings, two murders, and six escapes in its initial 14 months.  In 2011, a Court Judge was convicted in a “cash for kids jail scheme,” in which private prisons had paid him to dole out harsh sentences in order to maintain their prison population. … Under Trump, inmate numbers are expected to increase substantially, following a crackdown on illegal immigration and a new insistence on mandatory minimums (where repeat offenders of even non-violent crimes must serve sentences of years). …

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The federal workforce is ‘deeply in jeopardy,’ expert says   

Source: David Thornton, Federal News Radio, October 20, 2017
 
The federal workforce is facing major headwinds from President Donald Trump’s administration and certain lawmakers that may soon devolve into an outright hostile environment, experts say.  They point to potential retirement cuts looming in Congress, investigations into reassignments at the Department of Interior, and potentially devastating budget cuts at the Environmental Protection Agency as examples, and outlined a few overarching challenges feds will have to endure or overcome in the near future. …One of the challenges Verkuil named specifically was the movement for at-will employment. A bill was introduced in the House of Representatives in July that would classify new federal hires as at-will employees, which means they could be removed or suspended without notice or right to appeal for any reason, or no reason at all.  … The specter of privatization is looming large in the minds of federal unions, who fear proposed moves at the Veterans Affairs Department will go in that direction. And President Trump urged privatization of the Federal Aviation Administration this summer.

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Trump’s federal job cuts could lead to more spending
Source: Timothy Noah, Politico, April 13, 2017

Since 1962, total federal spending has increased from about $600 billion to about $4 trillion. How did that happen without ballooning the size of the federal workforce? By ballooning the size of the private-sector workforce to which the federal government contracted out the work. Today more than half the Pentagon budget goes immediately out the door to federal contractors. … But if the Trump administration proceeds with its planned cuts in the federal workforce, at least some of the work could be assigned to contract employees instead. That would likely increase rather than reduce costs associated with the programs being managed. …

Warner fights to protect federal workers
Source: Augusta Free Press, February 11, 2017

U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined 14 Senate colleagues to unveil the “Five Fights for Federal Employees,” a proposal to protect current and retired government workers from ideologically motivated attacks. … The Senators introduced a resolution with a statement of principles that the Senators intend to use to fight back against recent attacks on the federal workforce. These principles include a commitment to defend fair pay and earned benefits, oppose the erosion of essential protections that ensure the professionalism and independence of the civil service, and prevent the outsourcing of essential government functions to private contractors. A number of prominent labor unions and organizations supported the proposal, including the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), International Federation of Professional & Technical Engineers (IFPTE), National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association (NARFE), National Weather Service Employee Organization (NWSEO), and the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU). …

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Senate Meal Supplier Not Banned From Contracts Over Pay Charge

Source: Ben Penn, Daily Labor Report, October 12, 2017 (Subscription required)

The Labor Department won’t ban a Senate cafeteria contractor from government business over charges it didn’t pay workers properly. The DOL settled the case with contractor Restaurant Associates by entering into a compliance agreement with the food service provider, a company spokesman told Bloomberg BNA. The settlement doesn’t include the harsher penalties that had been sought by the Obama administration. A DOL administrative law judge approved the settlement earlier this month, according to an order appearing on the agency website Oct. 12. The company and a DOL regional solicitor’s office agreed that instead of a debarment, Restaurant Associates would abstain from bidding on new federal service contracts for two years, the order states. …

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GAO: Architect of the Capitol’s Oversight of the Senate Food Service Contract
Source: William T. Woods, Government Accountability Office, GAO-17-481R: May 12, 2017

The Architect of the Capitol administers contracts to acquire goods and services for the U.S. Capitol complex. In 2015, questions arose regarding the wages for workers employed by the Senate’s food service contractor. We reviewed the AOC’s oversight of this contract and found that it had considered this contractor’s performance satisfactory in 2015, and extended its contract for another 7 years. However, after the wage issues were identified, the agency enhanced its oversight and required the contractor to provide data on wages paid to its employees.

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Feds Go After Concessions Company That Shorted Senate Workers $1 Million
Source: Dave Jamieson, Huffington Post, December 30, 2016

The Labor Department wants to bar a concessions company from receiving new federal contracts, after the company allegedly stiffed low-wage workers inside the U.S. Senate out of $1 million. In June, the department announced that Restaurant Associates, a subsidiary of the food service conglomerate Compass Group, would repay 674 Senate workers back wages after the company failed to pay employees the prevailing wage under federal law and didn’t compensate employees for all the hours they worked. Restaurant Associates has since paid back the workers. But the department went a step further on Thursday, filing a complaint requesting that the company be forbidden from receiving new contracts for a period of three years. The request will now go before an administrative law judge. If approved, it will only affect future contracts, not the current one at the Senate building, which runs through 2029, according to the Labor Department filing. … According to the Labor Department, Restaurant Associates misclassified workers by putting them in lower job categories, resulting in lower pay. The company said the misclassification was an honest mistake, resulting from “administrative technicalities related to [workers’] evolving day-to-day work responsibilities.” In a statement Friday, Restaurant Associates said it was “surprised and disappointed” that the Labor Department was seeking disbarment: “Restaurant Associates, which had no history of previous [prevailing wage] violations, fully cooperated in the investigation. The company immediately paid all back wages owed and made all changes to pay practices going forward as requested by DOL. … DOL’s decision is unprecedented in these circumstances.” …

US Capitol workers want their voices heard over wage theft
Source: Alba Morales, The Hill, September 20, 2016

Last month, the U.S. Department of Labor announced that U.S. Senate federal contract workers like me had been robbed of over $1 million dollars from our paychecks by our employer, Compass Group. DOL found that Compass had been paying us less than the legal rates for our jobs, had not being paying us proper overtime or even for all the hours we worked, and had not kept proper payroll records. Within weeks, some of my co-workers started receiving as much as $20,000 in back-pay awards. But I only received $240, with no explanation of how it was calculated. I’ve worked at the Senate for over a decade and I believe the company likely stole much more than a couple of hundred bucks from me. And I’m not alone. Over a dozen Senate contract workers received little or no compensation as wage theft victims. Worst of all, neither myself, nor any of these workers were contacted or interviewed by the Labor Department or the Architect of the Capitol, the agency that oversees the contract, as part of the investigation. … The truth is that this is a symptom of a bigger problem: Workers and our representatives have not been invited to participate in the investigation and settlement talks even though we exposed the illegal conduct and are directly impacted by the results. If this were a court case, the victims would have their say, but we are low-wage workers who can’t afford a private attorney. That’s why workers are sending a letter to the Architect of the Capitol and the Department of Labor to request that our voices are respected. For us, respect means a willingness to bring workers into the process. …

House and Senate Restaurants: Current Operations and Issues for Congress
Source: Sarah J. Eckman, Congressional Research Service, August 23, 2016

Those involved with restaurant administration in the House and Senate have often considered how management choices affect operating costs, services available, oversight, and other elements of the restaurant systems. For much of their histories, the House and Senate operated their own restaurants, but since 1994 in the House and since 2008 in the Senate, private vendors have run the restaurants. In August 2015, the House entered an agreement with Sodexo to operate the 17 facilities in the House restaurant system, subject to direction from the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) and the Committee on House Administration. In December 2015, the Senate entered a new contract with Restaurant Associates to operate the 12 facilities in the Senate restaurant system, subject to direction from the Architect of the Capitol (AOC) and the Committee on Rules and Administration. … Food and price issues, along with other day-to-day operational issues, including personnel matters, are largely the responsibility of the restaurant contractors. Some Members and observers have raised concerns about the degree of accountability for the House and Senate restaurant contractors, believing that the restaurants’ administration reflects upon Congress and that the restaurants should set an example for other businesses to follow. Although the House and Senate are responsible for restaurant oversight, the delegation of restaurant operations to private contractors means the chambers have less control over employee wages and benefits, procurement, or other business decisions that affect the restaurant systems. …

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Senate Cafeteria Workers Will Receive $1 million in Backpay from Restaurant Associates
Source: Lauren Godles, On Labor, July 26, 2016

Today, the Department of Labor announced today that the Senate cafeteria workers who were illegally denied wages will receive $1 million dollars in backpay from Restaurant Associates (RA) and its subcontractor, Personnel Plus. The money will be split among 674 employees, though DOL did not specify how much particular individuals will receive. … In an official investigation, DOL’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) concluded that RA misclassified the cafeteria workers, in violation of the Service Contract Act. RA was also found to have violated the FLSA. According to the Associated Press, the WHD is considering whether RA should be banned from future government contracts. …

Most Senate cafeteria workers were mistreated on wages, top Capitol official says
Source: Mike DeBonis, Washington Post, March 21, 2016

A majority of the roughly 90 blue-collar restaurant workers serving the U.S. Senate were improperly classified by their private employer, a top U.S. Capitol administrator told a congressional committee last week, putting them at risk of being underpaid and prompting a Labor Department inquiry into the matter. The workers employed by Restaurant Associates have sought higher wages for more than a year, and a December contract renegotiation appeared on its face to deliver better pay and benefits. But several workers said they were subsequently reclassified into new, lower-paying jobs, thus cheating them out of the raise they were expecting. … Ayers’s deputies then interviewed 86 of the cafeteria and restaurant employees. That inquiry determined that 35 employees were classified properly, said Laura Condeluci, a spokeswoman for Ayers; the other 51 were not. Restaurant Associates immediately reclassified 35 of the 51 misclassified workers and delivered back pay, leaving 16 in dispute, Ayers said. Half of those are being resolved through negotiations; the rest have been referred to the U.S. Department of Labor for resolution.

Senate Cooks Say Contractor Dodged Raises
Source: Rhonda Smith, Daily Labor Report, February 1, 2016 (Subscription Required)

The seven-year contract extension between Restaurant Associates and the AOC took effect Dec. 14. As a result, Restaurant Associates increased wage rates for about 80 percent of the 115 employees who work in Dirksen Senate Office Building eateries and in the Senate dining room. In the complaint, signed by attorney George W. Faraday, legal and policy director for Good Jobs Nation, the group said the minimum wage rates to which Compass Group employees at the Senate are legally entitled are established by the federal Service Contract Act for each occupational category. The letter notes that the new wage rates resulted in substantial wage increases for Compass workers classified in the lowest-paid SCA occupational categories, including cashiers, dishwashers and food-service workers. But the federal contractor downgraded various cooks to food-service worker positions, it added, which reduced their hourly wage rate. …

Senate Food Workers Allege ‘Raise Theft’
Source: Bridget Bowman, Roll Call, January 29, 2016

According to the complaint, congressional staff members were told at a Dec. 14 briefing that minimum wages for Level 1 cooks would be raised by $3.65, to $17.45 an hour, and Level 2 cooks would would receive a $5.70 increase to $19.50 an hour. But the complaint alleges several cooks were reclassified as a lower-tier “food service worker,” meaning their wages did not increase as expected. Under the new contract, food service workers’  minimum wage increased to $13.80 per hour. A labor organizer said so far they know of roughly a dozen workers who have had their classification downgraded, even though they still perform the duties of a cook.
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White House Pulls Planned Nominee for Key Employment Post

Source: Ben Penn, BNA Labor & Employment, October 11, 2017
 
Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta’s choice to run the Employment and Training Administration, Mason Bishop, has been blocked by the White House for an unknown reason, Bishop confirmed to Bloomberg BNA Oct. 11.  Bishop’s removal from consideration for the job after White House vetting has sent the Trump administration back to square one for finding a nominee to head the agency charged with implementing the top item on Acosta’s policy agenda: an initiative to expand public-private apprenticeships.  “All the White House informed me was that at this time they weren’t going to be able to nominate me and they would not give me a reason why,” Bishop, who is now resuming his consultancy business, told Bloomberg BNA. Bishop said he spent the summer filling out White House paperwork for a planned nomination after being told that Acosta had selected him for the position. …

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You’re Hired: Trump Plans to Build U.S. Workforce With Apprenticeships
Source: Eric Morath, Wall Street Journal, June 10, 2017

President Donald Trump next week will make expansion of apprenticeship programs the center of his labor policy, aimed at filling a record level of open jobs and drawing back Americans who have left the workforce. … The administration is committed to “supporting working families and creating a pathway for them to have robust and successful careers,” Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and assistant, said Friday. “There has been great focus on four-year higher education, and in reality, that is not the right path for everyone.” …

Trump Labor secretary tells G-20: More apprenticeships in US
Source: Laurie Kellman, Associated Press, May 18, 2017
 
U.S. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta is making public-private apprenticeships his debut issue as President Donald Trump’s point man on matching American workers with specific jobs. … The declaration, and a new campaign of tweets on the subject, represent the first indication since Acosta’s swearing-in three weeks ago that apprenticeships are at the core of the Trump administration’s plans to train a new generation of workers.  The discussion of apprenticeships is a relatively new one for Trump, who campaigned for the White House on promises to restore manufacturing jobs that he said had been lost to flawed trade deals and unfair competition from China, Mexico and more. But it’s not new to policymakers of either party or the private sector, whose leaders have for years run apprenticeship programs. … There’s also evidence of rare bipartisan agreement, at least on the value of apprenticeships, which generally combine state and federal government money with support from universities and companies looking to train people for specific jobs. In some cases, students split their time between school and work, and the companies pay some portion of wages and tuition. The budget compromise funding the federal government through September passed this month with $95 million for apprenticeship grants, an increase of $5 million — in part to increase the number of women apprentices. …