April 2021 · Issue Two
Happy New Year!!! We did it! We made it through one hell of a year- full of its share of struggle, loss, and triumph. Just when we thought 2021 would have no choice but to greet us with ease, we were jolted by the Insurrection of the US Capitol as Congressmen attempted to certify the results of the 2020 Presidential Election. We were quickly, and rudely awakened, by the harsh reality that 2021 would not be the smooth descent from 2020’s seemingly never-ending climb. Nevertheless, thankfully, we are here; and are privileged with breath and life to fight another day.
As we bring February to a close and head into March, we’ve already been up to quite a bit in the first quarter of the year. We ended 2020 with a feature in the Fire Issue of Riot and Roux, an independent, quarterly publication “that believes food is political” and explores the intersections of food, power, and social change. To check out our feature, visit www.riotandroux.com. We were also awarded a grant from the Community Foundation that will support our Cookbook Project, where we are collecting tasty recipes from our members along with their stories, as we prepare to bring each meal to life through print. Additionally, before the close of the year, we began hosting a series of Worker Listening Sessions in partnership with the DC Food Policy Council and Kaiser Permanente. Each Listening Session has given us an opportunity to uplift worker stories, perspectives, and experiences on workplace issues in the hospitality industry. Our first three sessions focused in on Health & Safety During COVID-19; Racism, Discrimination, and Racial Equity; and Sexual and Gendered Harassment. We are looking forward to our last session on Tipped Worker Rights & Wage Theft in March and hosting corresponding follow-up events.
Our members have continued to ban together in solidarity with one another to fight for a more just restaurant industry and a more just DC. We hosted our first bilingual ROC-DC Member Retreat to kick off the New Year. Our members recapped their struggles and successes with a year in review; and shared their hopes and dreams for continuing to make ROC-DC an inclusive, multi-lingual space for all members of the hospitality community. In pursuit of such goals, we’ve been hosting bi-weekly bilingual (English and Spanish) membership meetings since January. We look forward to continuing to make space for all of our members to participate in our shared work.
Speaking of our amazing members, we are excited to have two of our members, Norma Chavez and Dia King, participating in a Participatory Action Research (PAR) project in partnership with Movement Matters, The Greater Washington Community Foundation, and several other grassroots organizations to engage their community members and conduct research on how the pandemic has affected the most vulnerable workers in our communities. Currently we are interviewing potential research partners, and look forward to getting things underway very soon.
We have also spent these first couple of months to continue to build up the leadership and involvement of our members in our internal mutual aid efforts. With such active participation we have been able to build out a more sustainable structure of small “Mutual Aid Pods” with groups of about 15-20 members in each who work together to fundraise and seek out food donations for their group. We are currently in the process of facilitating the creation and expansion of 5 pods across DC and even into MD/VA.
On the Legislative and Advocacy fronts we’ve also been busy bees. We are members of several coalitions working to improve health and safety in the workplace, address the needs of District tenants across the city, and support communities of workers that have been excluded from access to unemployment and other government relief benefits.
As members of the Just Pay Coalition, we passed additional provisions from previous emergency COVID legislation that significantly strengthen workers’ rights to health, safety, and protection from retaliation in the workplace. A few of the game- changing additions include: (1) the ability for workers to receive Unemployment Insurance after voluntarily leaving a position due to unsafe working conditions (not following COVID safety regulations); (2) the ability to file for Workers Compensation if affected by COVID on the job; (3) protection against retaliation for exercising rights to safe working environments (4) The right for former employees and senior staff to be prioritized in the rehiring process as businesses continue to reopen. We’ve also worked with the Just Pay Coalition to host monthly Pay Stub Clinics for District workers to get more in depth information about how to read their pay stubs, tipped workers’ rights, COVID safety, and other beneficial workers rights like Pay Sick Leave and Paid Family Leave. Lastly, we are currently working on helping to relaunch the fiercely fought Excluded Worker campaign from last year. While we are grateful we were able to win much needed funds for excluded workers and their families, we recognize that all we have won is far from enough. Excluded workers have struggled now for an entire year to support their families without the benefits of Unemployment Insurance or stimulus checks. We look forward to returning to the DC council for another challenging, but necessary fight!
Finally, we are so excited to have so many of our members participating in the Cancel Rent Coalition! One of our very own is even serving as the Coalition Coordinator. The goal of the Cancel Rent Coalition is to push the DC Council & Mayor Bowser to support tenants affected by the pandemic by forgiving current and future outstanding rent debt, and offsetting the burden by allocating funds to landlords to compensate them for the loss of rental income. Although it may seem uncharacteristic for ROC-DC to be working so closely in housing organizing spaces, we have identified the cancellation of rent as one of the top priorities for our members, which means it is a top priority for us. Furthermore, housing issues are absolutely tied to labor issues, especially right now in the pandemic. If workers are able to have some sense of housing security, they will feel less desperate to return to unsafe and abusive workplace conditions. We are looking forward to continuing our work with the Cancel Rent coalition and participating in several upcoming actions to push our platform forward. Stay tuned!
As bugs bunny said, “That’s all folks!” As you can see we’ve had an action packed start to 2021, and I think it’s safe to say we’re just getting started! In our May issue, we will have all the juicy details on the progression of our current projects and movements. Are you already curious and anxiously awaiting what’s to come!? So are we!
As always we can’t begin to thank you enough for your generous, and continued support of ROC-DC! So much of our work is possible because of you. Thank you!