’Tis the season to be jolly.

But not for everyone.

Happiness is a lot easier for those paid a fair wage, which apparently is not what many federal contractor employees get.

In a complaint filed Monday with the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division, the Communications Workers of America (CWA) said the Lionel Henderson Corp. “has misclassified and underpays workers” who are customer service representatives for the National Flood Insurance Program.

It’s called “wage theft” and Henderson is not alone as an alleged wage thief.

  • A Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigation in 2010 said “the federal government has awarded contracts to companies that had been cited for large back-wage liabilities by Labor.”
  • A report released Monday by Demos, a public policy organization based in New York, said “approximately 40 percent of all federal contracting dollars in 2013 went to contractors with health, safety or wage violations on their record” and “Americans working for federal contractors lose up to $2.5 billion each year to violations of minimum wage laws alone.”
  • Good Jobs Nation, a campaign on behalf of low-wage federal contract workers that is supported by community and labor organizations, says it has recovered $5 million in back wages for 1,500 federal contract workers over the last three years.

President Obama has taken action to protect contract workers, but his efforts are under attack.

A federal judge in Texas blocked his 2014 “Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces” executive order that allows agencies to bar federal contractors with workplace violations. Another executive order raised the hourly minimum wage for federal contract workers to $10.10. In September, the administration announced that federal contractors must offer paid sick leave to employees.

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The future for these actions is unknown under President-elect Donald Trump. During his first 100 days in the White House, he has promised to “cancel every unconstitutional executive action, memorandum and order issued by President Obama.” It remains to be seen if Trump will play Scrooge and reverse these directives. Even with them in place, times have been tough for many low-income contractors.

Just thinking about this holiday season brings LaToya Williams to tears.

Williams, 35, works at Henderson’s call center in Hyattsville. She answers questions about the flood insurance program, which is run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

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“At this time of the year it’s hard for me,” she said, sobbing, “because I’m struggling. It’s not a good holiday for me because I’m sad.”

She’s sad because with her $14.28 hourly wage, she doesn’t have enough money to visit her family in North Carolina or pay her rent or even get a Christmas tree. Her very subsistence is subsidized by a local church that gives her six bags of food every month, plus a $25 grocery gift card.

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“It’s embarrassing,” she said. “There are times at the job I don’t eat the whole day.”

In a letter to the Labor Department, Alex van Schaick, a CWA lawyer, used boldface type to describe Williams’s situation as “a particularly egregious case of misclassification and wage theft.”

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The union said her current wage is “22 cents/hour less than the entry-level CSR (customer service representative) rate currently advertised by Lionel Henderson. Based on her job duties, Ms. Williams should be classified as a General Clerk and received a rate of at least $18.74/hour.”

Asked for reaction to the complaint, Alanna D. Smith, Henderson’s human resources director in Atlanta, said “the company will not comment at this time.”

There will be plenty of comment at a rally planned for Wednesday morning at Freedom Plaza on Pennsylvania Avenue NW, just up the block from Trump’s new hotel. Low-wage contract workers will hold a one-day strike and gather there to demand Trump stop all federal contractors from “stealing the pay of workers who serve America,” according to Good Jobs Nation.

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Wage-theft victims include federal contractors “who haul military cargo at America’s ports, aid victims of natural disasters, help senior citizens receive their pensions, promote equal justice in U.S. courts, and cook and clean for Senators,” a Good Jobs Nation statement said.

Those scheduled to speak at the rally include Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and actor Danny Glover.

Ellison said the Demos report shows “millions of Americans are having their wages stolen from them. Working people, trying to put food on the table and keep the lights on, are getting paid less than what they are owed. That’s appalling. It’s shameful.”

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If Trump tears up the “Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces” executive order,” Ellison added, “this problem will only get worse for workers across the country.”

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