The standard line about the American military, be it from politicians, celebrities or bumper stickers is “Support our troops.” But hundreds of the people who do that by helping service members, veterans and their families in what are called Family Assistance Service Centers just took a huge pay cut because of a new federal contract.
Catherine Rampell is a columnist for the Washington Post and wrote about this topic earlier in the week. She talked with Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal about what these workers do and what is happening now that their wages have been cut. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.
Kai Ryssdal: Tell me about these family assistance centers. What do they do?
Catherine Rampell: Essentially, they provide services or they connect soldiers, airmen, veterans, military families with various kinds of services, legal, financial or otherwise. So, if they find out that a veteran is homeless, they try to find housing. And they do lots of other things, too. If a service member is deployed and needs someone to take care of his or her dog, they find someone to take care of the dog. They basically do the literal work of supporting our troops.
Ryssdal: And now, for I guess the third time in the last three four years, the contract between the National Guard Bureau and these centers has been adjusted, and the workers are quite literally paying the price.
Rampell: Yes. So, there were two different contracts for similar kinds of work. Not actually for the family assistance centers, but other kinds of government contract workers who do various kinds of services to help military families. In each of these three recent contracts, the new company won the bid by changing the classification of these workers to something that was lower paid. And in the case of the family assistance centers, that's what happened as well. So around the country, you are seeing that this contract has been taken over, people's wages have been slashed and everyone's quitting.
Ryssdal: How many people have left how many jobs? I mean, do we know the scale of what's going on here?
Rampell: Yes, we have a sense of it. So, there are about 400 people who were affected by these pay cuts. And when I asked the National Guard earlier this week how many vacancies there were, they said there were about 90. And, of course, that does not count people who accepted the work but are actively looking for other jobs.
Ryssdal: How much of a pay cut are we talking about here?
Rampell: On average, it's about a third. In some cases, people lost about half of their hourly pay. Depends on where they live and what their job title is. But in some cases, people are earning basically burger-flipping wages. You know, they're earning ten bucks an hour.
Ryssdal: What happens now?
Rampell: The head of the national guard testified earlier this week in a Senate hearing and was asked about this, and he said that they were looking into it. Beyond that, I'm not sure. As I mentioned, there is a suggestion that these workers may be misclassified. And actually an outside organization, Good Jobs Nation, they advocate basically on behalf of government contract workers, have filed a complaint with the Labor Department, asking the Labor Department to investigate and look into whether these people are misclassified. If indeed they were, they would be owed back pay of course and potentially get a raise.
Ryssdal: And then in theory, people would come into this job again of actually supporting the troops, yes?
Rampell: One would hope. As I said, these are very critical jobs, and you want those jobs to be compensated, because you want good people in them doing this important work.