A few days before one of the busiest travel weekends of the year, food service workers at Connecticut’s highway service plazas held a Labor Day-themed rally. They also announced that they are organizing with SEIU and filing wage theft complaints with the Connecticut Department of Labor. Workers also reported facing retaliation for standing up for themselves, and many have reported harsh working conditions with severe understaffing, burns on the job, and dangerously hot conditions in the kitchens.
The complaints allege that employers have systematically underpaid workers by failing to provide benefits or the additional payment required by the Connecticut Standard Wage Law. Companies contracting with the state must provide workers with appropriate wages under the Service Contract Act, as well as the prevailing rate of benefits to workers, which is 30% of the minimum rate of pay. The dozens of complaints outline a pattern of noncompliance suggesting millions of dollars in unpaid wages to food service employees working at rest stops along Connecticut’s highways.
The state owns the land on which all 23 of the state’s service plazas operate. Through a concession agreement, national brands work with private franchisees who ultimately employ nearly 900 food service workers.
Danbury State Senator Julie Kushner says it's more incumbent on elected officials to call on those who do business with the state and benefit from that business that they must comply with Connecticut laws. The former UAW leader says the concessioners are obstructing the rights of workers.
Kushner touted progress in the last legislative session to raise the minimum wage and to implement a paid family leave program. But she says more needs to be done. Kushner had introduced legislation to protect workers looking to unionize. She called for a neutral environment for workers to gather and decide if they want to be part of collective bargaining to help change their working conditions.
4th District Congressman Jim Himes also made remarks at the rally.
The food service workers say the cleaners and maintenance workers are better paid, receive benefits, and are protected from capricious mistreatment because they are members of SEIU and have a collective voice.