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US Senate Cafeteria Workers to Split $1 Million in Back Pay

FILE - A view of a closed Senate cafeteria at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Oct. 1, 2013.

Hundreds of men and women who cook and serve lunches to U.S. lawmakers and their staffs will split more than $1 million in back pay after the Labor Department found they were illegally underpaid.

The Wage and Hour Division found the two companies that run the U.S. Senate cafeteria broke the law by paying employees wages lower than what they were entitled to receive for the jobs they performed, and for failing to pay overtime.

"Workers in the restaurant industry are among the lowest-paid workers in our economy," Wage and Hour Administrator David Weil said Tuesday. "Most struggle to afford life's basic expenses and pay their bills. They shouldn't have to deal with paychecks that don't accurately reflect their hard work and the wages to which they are legally entitled."

A top executive of one of the two companies accused of underpaying the workers, Restaurant Associates, blamed what he called "administrative technicalities" and said the problem would be fixed.

But the president of the other company, Personnel Plus, said it did nothing wrong and did not owe anyone "a dime in back wages."

Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid called on the Senate to refuse to do business with what he called "unscrupulous vendors" who put profits ahead of people.