Restaurant Worker
Reopening Demands

The Restaurant Opportunities Center of DC is a local worker center dedicated to building power with restaurant workers in order to improve wages and working conditions, so we can create a restaurant industry that is just and equitable. We are a membership based and led organization. The following demands were developed by a group of restaurant workers who have been impacted by the effects of COVID-19. As restaurant workers who will be at the frontlines of any reopening efforts, we know that having worker voices in these conversations is crucial in ensuring future policies will be just and equitable. 

  1. PROTECT WORKERS

Above everything else, our lives come first. We demand that the Mayor and the Council put the wellness and livelihood of frontline workers at the forefront of all policy, especially plans to reopen. Workers are not disposable and our lives are worth more than business and corporate profits. 

A. Ensure that all workers and residents are covered by free or affordable health care. The health of DC residents and workers should be made a top priority. People should not have to choose between getting emergency care for their sickness (whether Covid-19 or any other illness) and accruing massive debt or staying home with symptoms and risking their lives. Ideally, this should be ensured through the expansion of Medicare for all District residents, which offers a higher standard of care than Medicaid. If this cannot be immediately offered, then every District resident should be offered either Medicaid, or an ACA-linked plan with expanded subsidies to ensure affordability throughout the pandemic. District residents who currently receive employer-based health care should be assured of its continuation, regardless of current working status. To this end, the Paycheck Protection Program should be expanded to include incentives for employers to continue those benefits, without employee contributions (since there are no, or reduced paychecks for such deductions) for the duration of the pandemic.

B. Ensure that workers who remain employed through the crisis are provided with proper PPE and training by their employers. Cleaning supplies, hand sanitizer and surface sanitizer should be readily available at all restaurants operating during the crisis. Training on how to properly use PPE and sanitizer should be given to every employee who is working during the crisis and training should be made available in a workers first language. Employees should not be required to pay for their own PPE. 

C. Expand access to paid sick leave benefits that ensure that all DC workers are eligible for 2 weeks (14 days) of paid sick leave that are available for them on the first day of their employment instead of needing to be accrued over time. Additionally an oversight committee should be created that ensures all restaurants disclose employees’ right to paid sick leave in all major languages (English, Mandarin, Spanish, and Amharic). This committee would also implement a system for employees to report restaurants that do not comply with paid sick leave regulations. To ensure parity in paid sick leave for workers commuting from bordering counties in Maryland and Virginia, officials in the surrounding counties and DC must work together to implement region-wide comprehensive paid sick leave. There should be additional paid time off for healthy workers who have been exposed to a known Covid-19 infection risk to quarantine safely at home for a period of 14 days, without consuming their sick leave (and this should be explicitly covered by the Paycheck Protection Program).

D. Protect workers who are being put at risk by their employers. Workers should not have to be obligated to come back to work if they feel the proper protective policies have not been put in place. A worker refusing to come back to work due to health risks should not face retaliation, the risk of losing their job in the future or the risk of losing their unemployment benefits. Employers who receive loans from the Paycheck Protection Program should give workers the option to (1) not return to work if they feel unsafe (2) return to work on a part-time basis so they can continue to receive unemployment benefits (3) pay all workers (both tipped and non-tipped) a hazard rate pay of at least time a half at the full minimum wage rate, while encouraging restaurants to pool tips with front of house and back of house staff. 

E. Provide mandatory updated Health & Safety standards for workplaces with oversight measures enforced by OSHA, OAG and OHR. OSHA must take immediate steps for full enforcement of these standards (which should be requirements and not merely “recommendations” as those recently put forward in the meat-packing industry), immediately respond to worker complaints with proper inspections, and ensure that workers can report violations without the fear of retaliation.

F. The District should take affirmative steps to fully enforce and monitor all employers’ response to the need to protect their workers. This should include, at a minimum, mandating that employers ensure all sick employees, and those exposed to them, are provided support to get tested for Covid-19, and to communicate to all employees when they have been exposed to sick co-workers and/or clientele known to have been infected. The District should also take steps to prevent and/or override any attempt by the federal government to indemnify employers who risk the health and lives of their workers. Finally, the District should monitor the compliance of employers with the provisions of the Paycheck Protection Program to prevent abuse, and to ensure that the funds are used for the benefit of workers. There should be strict penalties for any employers who wilfully endanger the health and lives of their staff, such as those who require workers to abandon PPEs in favor of profits.

  1. SUPPORT UNEMPLOYED WORKERS

No matter when we reopen, there will continue to be thousands of restaurant workers who will remain unemployed during the coming months. We should be prepared to continue to provide benefits to unemployed workers and expand our current benefits to workers who have been formally excluded.

A. Guaranteed UI benefits for unemployed workers during and beyond the COVID-19 crisis. Ensure that workers who have applied for UI Benefits and have had their benefits delayed due to the backed up DOES system, will have their claims expedited and paid retroactively. UI benefits should be guaranteed throughout the longevity of the crisis and at least 6 months after the stay at home order is lifted, to support displaced workers re-entering the recovering restaurant industry or finding new fields of employment.

B. Eliminating the refusal to work condition when receiving unemployment. If a person who is receiving unemployment is asked to go back to work but refuses for safety reasons, that person’s unemployment benefits should remain intact.

C. Expand public cash assistance benefits to excluded workers. Thousands of workers across the DMV, many of whom are restaurant workers, have been completely excluded from government support during the crisis due to legal status. Cash assistance should include recurring $900/week for individuals and $1,100/ week for families of four (based on MFI and AMI data). This assistance can be paid through grants to community organizations like Sanctuary DMV, Many Languages One Voice, HIPS, and No Justice No Pride. Assistance could also be distributed through preloaded debit cards as done in LA County in California and given directly to people with an ITIN number. 

D. Expand UI outreach efforts targeting workers who may have been initially excluded from benefits due to language access or technological barriers. DOES must be able to reach much more vulnerable populations who are eligible for UI but have not been able to apply due to lack of internet access, long wait times and dropped calls when filing over the phone, and language access issues (e.g. there is no Amharic language option on the phone line). A public campaign via physical mail, phone calls, emails, employer outreach and/or bus ads should be launched to ensure that everyone who has lost their job due to COVID-19 knows how to apply for UI benefits. All benefits for affected workers applying late should be retroactive to the date in which the worker was laid off.  

E. Connect and provide funding for unemployed workers to continue their formal education or receive vocational training during the crisis in order to help people expand their skills and education. The restaurant industry will be vastly changed after the crisis. Workers must get support to help them be ready for other employment opportunities in the future. The District should invest in this unemployed population to provide free and low cost vocational training, ESL courses and higher education opportunities. One area workers could receive training in is how they can start their own worker owned co-ops so they can be part of the rebuilding efforts of the industry once the crisis is over. The District should also consider opportunities to specifically recruit laid off restaurant workers into the planned Contact Tracer Force, and other pandemic response needs, as the skills of restaurant workers have accumulated over the years can be readily translated into many other useful roles.

F. Cancel rent and mortgages for tenants and small businesses. With the high cost of living in DC, there is no way for unemployed tenants to afford paying rent during the months of the stay at home order. Similarly, many actual small businesses (50 employees or less) have had to close their doors and cannot afford to be running a to-go operation. Rent and mortgages during the crisis should be covered by DC or forgiven. Rent subsidies should also be explored as an option for medium and large restaurants who continue to operate business through to-go orders and alcohol sales. 

  1. PAY WORKERS FAIR WAGES & PROTECT WORKERS RIGHTS

Restaurant workers occupy some of the lowest paid positions even during the time when our industry was growing and thriving. Restaurant workers deserve to be treated as professionals and be paid professional wages. Hazard pay must be guaranteed for any worker asked to return to work before the risk of COVID-19 is eliminated, and moving forward, we must not revert back to poverty wage structures once restaurants begin to reopen and people return back to work. 

A. Tipped workers receive regular minimum wage and any hazard pay is based off of this rate. If and when tipped workers are being brought back to work, ensure that they will be receiving at least minimum wage to do the work. 

B. Hazard Pay at the minimum rate of time and a half must be guaranteed for anyone working during the public health crisis. Workers working while COVID-19 is still a risk must be able to be paid on this scale, including tipped workers. Workers are professionals and not disposable. 

C. Protect the minimum wage increase. We must continue to move forward and strengthen our protections for workers during the pandemic instead of taking away workers rights. The minimum wage is already too low for workers to sustain themselves in an expensive area like the DMV. We should be thinking about ways to increase wages instead of letting them stagnate or decrease. 

D. Protect Paid Family Leave from being defunded or delayed. The District should not allow for Paid Family Leave to be taken away from workers during a public health crisis. The results of getting rid of Paid Family Leave would be devastating on the health of workers who continue to work during and after COVID-19. 

FURTHER SUGGESTIONS

Collaborate with neighboring states to devise and implement policies.

Work closely with leaders in surrounding counties in Maryland and Virginia around policies concerning workers who may commute across state lines.

  1. Tax large companies and corporations like Amazon and others based on examples proposed in San Francisco and Seattle (see below). 
  2. Work with surrounding counties to establish comprehensive sick leave regulations. 
  3. Implement protections for excluded workers across the region.
  4. Provide Medicare for all affected workers in the region.
  5. Provide free, readily available, and accessible coronavirus testing for everyone in the region. 

Update tax policy to pay for virus response in DC.

In order for the city to continue to afford paying for UI, rent subsidies, and other relief measures they should be looking into alternative and progressive revenue streams. There are a significant number of people who live and work in DC who are more than well off, earning well above the average median income. The following examples could help the city raise money for coronavirus response and relief: 

  1. The Board of Supervisors in San Francisco recently proposed the city double the tax on the sale of commercial and residential properties to offset speculation during the COVID-19 crisis and to raise funds for the city’s response to the crisis. DC could eliminate the burden of paying back rent for renters who have lost income, for example.
  2. In Seattle, councilmembers are proposing a “head tax” which would tax large businesses whose margins are a lot higher than small businesses and could fund relief efforts for the city’s more affected workers and businesses. 
  3. Raising the marginal tax rate for taxable income between $350k- $1M to 10% or more based on this data from DC Fiscal Policy Institute

Base reopening guidelines on the most conservative projections for the course of the pandemic.

Before considering when restaurants and food retailers can reopen on a limited capacity, city health officials should consider the most conservative virus projections which include the probability that: 

  1. Another outbreak could occur in the Fall or Winter. 
  2. A viable vaccine will take time, anywhere from several months to a year, and is still not guaranteed to be free of cost.
  3. Death projections could double to 3,000 a day by June 2020 as other states reopen
  4. Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington also projected a doubling of the death toll in the next 3 months.
  5. Re-opening plans for the District MUST consider our position as a national hub city, which will immediately upon reopening be visited by people from across the country, including states and local areas with a variety of infection rates, vastly increasing the risk of new waves of infection being visited upon the District.
  6. Pandemic health statistics (tests, test-case ratios, hospitalisation, deaths, hospitalisation resources, PPEs) should govern every stage of re-opening, as well as the responses along the entire course of the virus through to its eradication. While current pandemic stats correctly track age, race, gender and ward of cases and deaths, there is an urgent need to track the exposure impact on workers currently in the field across all essential sectors, and to continue and report case data for those who join in the process of re-opening. So occupational/work exposure data should be added to the list.
  7. While there is a growing discourse about finding ways to re-open while protecting “vulnerable groups”, and it is generally agreed that older people, those with underlying conditions and African-Americans and Latinos have both higher rates of infection and worse outcomes, the underlying reality is that everyone faces a dangerously elevated risk during this pandemic, and even exposing large numbers of young and healthy people to this virus increases the danger of contagion to the most vulnerable among us, so any reopening plan should resist the temptation to assume there is a “safe exposure” group among us.
  8. DC should pay close attention to cases spiking in the next few weeks as more and more states reopen will be crucial to how and DC plans to reopen. To this end, monitoring cases and outcomes among different occupations and work exposure levels will help.

The Pandemic is a grave health and economic crisis for the District, the US and the world, but it also offers a historically unique opportunity for us to envision a better District, nation and world as we rebuild.

  1. Creative and democratic engagement with workers and residents of the DMV can help us rebuild in a manner that is more equitable, just and fair to everyone who lives and works in the region.
  2. Specifically, the vast impact of the pandemic on the restaurant industry offers an opportunity to develop new and better business models, including both cooperative and worker-owned enterprises, and owner-operated models with healthy and professionally-paid workers.
  3. Our recovery also offers and opportunity to re-examine and democraticse our entire food chain, by considering ways to link local farmers and other food producers, alongside the restaurant industry, into a more sustainable and community-focussed model.
  4. The residential and commercial rent and mortgage crisis that has emerged during the crisis also offers an opportunity to reconsider how property development and ownership in the city makes our entire economy vulnerable to such crises, and to develop new models to address this.
  5. The many mutual aid groups that have emerged during this crisis offers an opportunity to build and energise community-driven development on all fronts, which should be supported by public resources.