U.S. Senate worker says she makes so little, she has to moonlight as a stripper

She’s a stripper who also works at one of America’s most exclusive and powerful clubs: the United States Senate.

On Wednesday, a woman named Kim (using only her first name) published an op-ed in the Guardian titled, “I work at the U.S. Senate. I shouldn’t have to dance at strip clubs to feed my son.” Kim works as a cashier ringing up coffee and other cafeteria delights for some of the world’s most powerful politicians, but she wrote that the $10.33 wage (before taxes, we assume) and unstable work schedule routinely leave her unable to pay the most basic bills.

“Even though I serve some of the wealthiest and most powerful people in the world, I can’t afford to buy my son school supplies or clothes,” wrote Kim in the Guardian essay. “After paying all my bills and providing for the needs of my son, I’m $600 in the hole every month. On top of the low wages, I get a lay-off notice every time the U.S. Senate goes on recess, which means that I don’t get a paycheck for 8-10 weeks a year.”

“After paying all my bills and providing for the needs of my son, I’m $600 in the hole every month.”

Kim’s story is the latest twist in an ongoing battle over whether to allow Restaurant Associates, owned by the British company Compass, to continue providing the cafeteria services on Capitol Hill. In April, the cafeteria workers went on strike and revealed to reporters that many people who worked at the Senate offices were on food stamps—including one man who was homeless.

“I work for the most powerful people in the country, and there I am sleeping at a subway stop,” a Restaurant Associates employee, Charles Gladden, told CNN in April.

A couple of weeks ago, on July 21, the Guardian ran an essay by another Hill cashier, Sontia Bailey

Bailey wrote that she worked 70 hours a week to make ends meet: a day job at the Senate cafeterias and nights at Kentucky Fried Chicken. Working from 6am to 1am everyday took such a toll, wrote Bailey, that she had a miscarriage.

“If I made a living wage at the U.S. Capitol, I would not have needed to get a second job and stretch myself to the breaking point,” wrote Bailey. “If I just had one good-paying job, I would be a new mother today. Nobody should ever have to choose between paying the bills and the health of her pregnancy.”

Not only that, but KFC allegedly paid her a higher hourly wage than her job at the Senate.

On April 27, a small coalition of senators led by 2016 presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) sent a letter to the chairman of the Senate Rules Committee asking that contractors be required to pay living wages to employees.

In the letter, the senators pointed out that the currently required base wage of $10.10 adds up to an unsustainable annual salary of $21,000—and that’s only with a full-time schedule that doesn’t include the frequent session layoffs faced by Senate workers.

“Contractors should not be allowed to keep food and restaurant services prices low for senators, Senate staff, and visitors to the Senate, while failing to pay their workers a living wage,” read the Senate letter. “Nor should American taxpayers subsidize these contractors by allowing them to pay low wages that must be augmented by taxpayer-funded benefits.”

Illustration by Fernando Alfonso III

Mary Emily O'Hara

Mary Emily O'Hara

Mary Emily O'Hara is an LGBTQ reporter. Her work has appeared in Rolling Stone, NBC Out, Daily Dot, Broadly, Vice, the Daily Beast, the Advocate, Huffington Post, DNAinfo, Al Jazeera, and Portland's Pulitzer Prize-winning newsweekly Willamette Week, among other outlets.