Five women who work in an Andrews Air Force Base dining room were arrested two days before Christmas while picketing at the front gate of the base against a private firm that owed them and about 15 other employes at least two weeks pay.
An official of the union representing the employes also was arrested.
Officials of the company, Urban Enterprises of Tacoma, Wash., said they couldn't meet their payroll until the firm received its own payment from the government.
Prince George's County police took the women and the union official in handcuffs to Oxon Hill station, where they were charged with disturbing the peace and obstructing traffic. The women returned to the picket line the following morning at 8 o'clock, and at 10 a.m. got word that all employes' checks had arrived.
The paychecks were a week overdue and arrived too late for some employes to do Christmas shopping and for others to avoid rent penalties. Some of the employes -- most are women -- said they had not been paid since mid-November. Paydays are scheduled for the 15th and the last day of the month.
"Right now I'm so cold, I don't feel like shopping," said Dorothy Gaskins, 58, of Suitland, who has worked in the Naval Air Facility dining room for nine years. "I just didn't do any Christmas shopping. I didn't have the money. I was depending on this check."
Carl J. Brown, vice president of Urban Enterprises, whose contract to manage the dining room for the Navy began Oct. 1, said the company did not mail the paychecks on time because the firm has not been paid by the government and "a small firm can only go so far into its pockets."
"The workers have a valid gripe," he said. "They should have been paid on the 15th." He said that after the workers went on strike, officers of the company made personal loans to meet the payroll.
Urban Enterprises claims that part of the problem is that the government's contracting office is in Washington, D.C., the job site is at Andrews, the Department of Defense's contract-administration office is in Los Angeles and the office with administrative responsibility for the Los Angeles office is in Seattle.
"Urban Enterprises says, 'We'll pay when the government pays us,' but I told them, 'Hey, the hostages are over in Iran. We're not going to let you take hostages here,'" said James Woodward of Teamsters Local Union 639, who organized the picket line and was arrested with the five women.
"It's his (Urban Enterprise's) obligation to have capital to work with. We're not going to be his bill collector. This is an example of the government giving a contract to an irresponsible company," Woodward said.
Woodward added that the union has filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board.
"Anybody dealing with the government should have working capital and should be on guard that it would take this long or longer for payment," said a spokesman for the Navy who declined to be identified. He said that the payment provision in the contract was "somewhat mixed up" and that the contractor was submitting invoices without numbers. "Hopefully we've got this problem resolved," he said.
The people who work in the dining room know only that they weren't paid on the 15th, and that this created hardships.
Robert Washington, 38, of Forestville, said that his last paycheck was Nov. 15 and that he is behind "on everything."
"When my rent's late its $25 extra. I'm trying to scrape that up," he said. Washington added that his wife works, and they "had some things in layaway for Christmas" for their three young daughters, but had to borrow money from relatives to buy the toys.