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  • Writer's pictureRiot and Roux! Editorial Team

ROC DC (December 2020)

The restaurant industry was unexpectedly rocked by the onset of COVID-19. Workers were laid off and businesses shut their doors. Whether we knew it then or not, the lives and livelihoods of so many would be significantly changed for the unforeseeable future. Even though the DMV restaurant industry has risen like dough to culinary acclaim and economic dominance, there is much to be desired with just a peek under the crust. While boasting cultural diversity and equal opportunity in the front of house, the industry is rife with racial bias and inequity, discrimination, wage theft, and ownership disparity- just behind the kitchen door.

Our industry, much like our country, is at a crossroads- left with the choice to stay the course or recalibrate the compass toward systemic, institutional, and equitable transformation.

ROC-DC will continue to be both in the trenches and leading the charge in the fight for better wages and working conditions for Service Industry professionals in the DMV. While our pursuit of each never stops, COVID-19 has significantly shifted our work to meet the most current and most pressing needs of our members and the service industry community.

Our members have shown strength, resolve, comradery, and solidarity- in the midst of their own adversity- to ensure their communities are safe, seen, and heard! We are delighted to share with you a few of the ways we’ve been working to support our industry community.

Restaurant Worker Relief Fund

Our first major relief effort was the launch of a GoFundMe to provide direct cash assistance to affected hospitality workers. Within a week, we raised almost $10,000. In a little over a month, we were able to raise $30,000. With the generous support of the Greater Washington Community Foundation and the Arlington Community Foundation and donors from the Sanctuary DMV Stimulus Redistribution Fund, we were able to quadruple our relief efforts to reach an even greater amount of workers throughout the DMV. Through these efforts, we were able to provide need-based funds, ranging in amounts from $100-$500, to over 600 food service workers in the DC metropolitan area. Through our relief fund efforts we have been able to expand our reach and base to workers in the DMV. From these efforts, our members have developed a network of restaurant worker mutual aid “pods” across the region that have been engaged in both providing basic necessities to one another while also being engaged in organizing.

Mutual Aid Pods

After launching our Relief Fund we engaged with so many workers that were either in need or interested in doing their part to support their comrades. Forming Mutual Aid Pods was our first step in supporting our members and other hospitality workers in need through weekly grocery deliveries. Since May, we’ve been able to provide grocery and other essential items (diapers, toilet paper, etc.) for over 100 families.

We have been able to support 40 families in Northern Virginia led by our member, Elana Margosis; 50 families in DC led by our Bilingual Organizing Fellow, Miguel Castro; and another 20 families across the DMV led by our oldest member (and ROC- Star), Venorica Tucker. Each of these pods include members from varying sectors of the hospitality industry, as well as, varying cultural backgrounds and native languages. Through the support of our members, we’ve been able to develop multicultural membership that truly reflects the diversity of our local hospitality community.

Without forging several partnerships with local organizations and food banks, our mutual aid support would not have been as consistent or successful. We would like to give tremendous thanks and appreciation to our local partners - Bloom, Food For All, Martha’s Table, District Delicious, The Ronald Reagan Trade Center, Friends & Family Meal, and Sixth Street Church. Through these partnerships we have been able to prepare deliveries in a safe and secure space; and provide our families with fresh fruits and vegetables, dry food goods, and other essential items like diapers, wipes, soap, and toilet tissue. We also owe a huge thank you to our individual donors who have graciously provided bags for packing, masks, and other items for use by our families.

A Just Reopening

In May, Mayor Bowser began the process of deciding the ReOpening plan for DC. She developed ReOpening committees for various industries but largely excluded worker voices within these advisory boards. With a lack of worker voices, members were not confident about the Committees’ ability to truly address the health and safety concerns of hospitality workers. In response, ROC Members pinned a letter to the Mayor and Members of the Council to address the exclusion of worker perspectives, the prioritization of business community members, and shared demands for supporting hospitality workers during this time of widespread loss in wages, employment, and health insurance.

Our members also recognized their apprehensions about the roll out of the District’s plan to reopen restaurants was not just their own, but shared by many of their fellow colleagues. In response, members planned and hosted several events aimed to make space for workers to safely share their opinions, provide the necessary information to make informed decisions about their return to work, and establish a sense of collectiveness and connectivity amongst hospitality workers of all sectors. We hosted a series of virtual events including a Town Hall, Health & Safety Panel Discussion, and Speak Out -- all centered around workers’ voices, ensuring they are part of the conversations dictating their safety and livelihood. On Labor Day members took to the streets for their “Restaurant & Service Worker Rally for Justice” to uplift their demands and build solidarity and visibility with restaurant workers.

What's Next?

It has been a long and arduous 8 months, and the conditions restaurant workers are forced to endure continue with no relief in sight. Industry workers are still enduring extreme financial disadvantages; and potential health risks ask they continue to be at our service- all the while working for low wages and fewer tips.

Winter is coming, and so are we! The members of ROC-DC have built a resilient community capable of being the change they want to see. We will continue to push forward to support one another and work towards reshaping our beloved industry towards equity and justice.

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