Employees working for the largest federal food service contractor, Sodexo, are raising concerns about lagging wages to Congress in hopes lawmakers will support more competitive wages on government contracts.

Members of Unite Here, a labor union representing 300,000 employees across various industries, picketed outside the Federal Reserve building in New York last week, saying inflation further erodes wages that already lag behind the private sector. And on Sept. 13, members who work in the House of Representatives, the FBI and Fannie Mae will rally in Washington, D.C.

Labor contracts that cover workers have expired, or will next year. This creates a potential window of opportunity to adjust current wages for inflation and reach a new agreement to address lost wages from the pandemic shuttering federal buildings.

“We want our people to get more than crumbs,” said Marlene Patrick Cooper, president of Local 23. “We want our people to get something that’s livable.”

Getting support from Congress would be critical in building support for livable wages on government contracts, the union said. Workers are also hoping to garner allyship for union efforts, for which the Biden administration has repeatedly pledged support.

“Our work matters to the functioning of essential businesses, banks and venues, and our members need jobs that are enough to live on,” said José Maldonado, president of the Local 100 chapter.

Across chapters, about 70% of union workers now work in person, but the volume of work has not been fully replenished.

Venorica Tucker, a 34-year banquet worker at the House of Representatives, used to be able to make nearly $60,000 during a good year on Capitol Hill.

Year to date, Tucker’s paycheck is $6,000.

“We are not asking for handouts,” she said. “We are asking them to recognize our efforts.”

Sodexo workers within the Federal Reserve said they lacked the money to cover basic living expenses in the past year, even though President Joe Biden issued an executive order in April that required contractors to pay their employees a $15 minimum wage starting in 2022.

Though service contracts set a wage and benefit floor intended to protect workers from competition whittling down pay, those minimums have a tendency to become the de facto ceiling and are difficult to adjust.

Some of the lowest paid workers in New York make less than $2 above the minimum, still below what’s considered a living wage for the locality.

For one working adult and no dependents, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology calculates a living wage of $22.71 for a New York City resident.

A spokesperson for the Federal Reserve did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Sodexo employees serve millions of meals every year to more than 160 military and federal government locations in 28 states.

Molly Weisner is a staff reporter for Federal Times where she covers labor, policy and contracting pertaining to the government workforce. She made previous stops at USA Today and McClatchy as a digital producer, and worked at The New York Times as a copy editor. Molly majored in journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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