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Reagan Building Food Court Workers Allege Wage Theft In Complaint To Labor Department

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WASHINGTON -- Workers at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center filed a complaint with the Labor Department on Monday alleging a slew of labor violations against their employers, including not being paid the minimum wage and working as many as 80 hours a week without overtime pay.

The Reagan Building is a federal property, but the workers who lodged the complaint are employed by private businesses in the building's food court, like a Subway sandwich shop, a Quick Pita franchise and a Smoothie King location. The complaint was issued by a new union-backed labor group, Good Jobs Nation, which is trying to draw attention to the low-wage contract jobs inside government-owned or -operated buildings, particularly in the D.C. area.

In addition to "low pay, long hours and no benefits," the workers are subject to "serious, willful and chronic violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act," the letter to officials states. "In fact, every food court worker who reported working over 40 hours per week was never paid overtime for those hours, even though work weeks of 60 or 70 hours are common, and some workers report working over 80 hours per week."

The Reagan Building is managed by the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), which handles office space for federal agencies, though the concessions in the building are contracted through Trade Center Management Associates, a private management group. Good Jobs Nation said in a statement that workers planned to deliver a copy of the complaint to GSA officials during a demonstration at the agency's headquarters on Monday.

Citing issues that arose in interviews with 18 food court workers, the group asked the Labor Department's wage and hour division to "prioritize this site for coordinated enforcement action."

According to the complaint, which hasn't yet been investigated by the Labor Department, one of the more common problems at the building is a practice known as "splitting" paychecks, in which an employer issues two checks to a single worker for the same pay period, perhaps for work performed at two of the company's locations. Although the work should be filed under a single check, splitting the work into two can help the employer avoid paying overtime on the hours exceeding the 40-hour threshold.

Most of the workers in the letter were not identified for fear of losing their jobs, the authors wrote. One worker who was named, Antonio Vanegas, apparently worked for Quick Pita for three years, parting ways last month. "He ordinarily worked 59 hours per week but was never been [sic] paid an overtime premium for any hours worked," the complaint alleges. "He was always been [sic] paid in cash, and has never received an itemized statement from his employer showing his pay, hours worked, or deductions."

A man who answered the phone at Quick Pita and identified himself as a manager said he wasn't aware of the complaint and couldn't comment on it.

An estimated 150 workers took part in a one-day strike last month spearheaded by Good Jobs Nation, the latest in a string of relatively small walkouts orchestrated by new advocacy groups for low-wage workers. But whereas most of the protests have targeted big private-sector employers like Walmart and Burger King, the D.C. demonstrations have criticized the federal government for subsidizing poverty jobs through concessions contracting.

A recent report from the left-leaning think tank Demos found that a lot of the food and janitorial jobs created through federal contracting don't provide the pay and benefits necessary to support families. Much of the taxpayer money instead ends up subsidizing the high salaries of executives at companies with concessions contracts, according to the report, titled "Underwriting Bad Jobs."