Employees At One Of José Andrés' DC Restaurants Just Formed A Union

The José Andrés Group has announced it is voluntarily recognizing the request from employees at Washington D.C.'s The Bazaar to unionize. More than half of the employees at the restaurant signed a petition to join UNITE HERE Local 25, a union representing hospitality workers. The union is a diverse collective of non-managerial employees in hotels and casinos in the D.C. area, including staff at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel where Andrés' restaurant is located.

With union representation, the employees at The Bazaar are hoping to bargain for better working conditions, including higher wages, more transparent tip-sharing policies, and lower costs for health insurance. As of July 2023, the hourly minimum wage for tipped employees in the D.C. area is just $8, although if added tips don't equal the standard minimum wage of $17, the employer must pay the difference. Chacha Williams, a server, told Bloomberg that the tip distribution system had been repeatedly changed by management, so she had a hard time estimating what her pay might be ahead of time. Food runner Daniel Rueda said his wages amounted to less than a third of the $25 per hour that some line cooks earned at another restaurant in the hotel. Such accounts present a stark contrast with the pay and benefits afforded to the unionized employees at the Waldorf Astoria's other dining locations.

High expectations for the humanitarian founder

José Andrés is well-known for founding the World Central Kitchen, which organizes humanitarian food aid. He is also an outspoken champion of immigrant rights, so all eyes were on the restaurant group's response to what Casa executive director Gustavo Torres said is a mostly immigrant staff. The activist organization called the unionization effort "an immigrants' rights issue."

Notably, Andrés previously planned to open a restaurant at the current site of The Bazaar, which was a Trump Hotel before the Waldorf Astoria took its place. But the agreement was scuttled in 2015 after then-presidential candidate Donald Trump made controversial comments about immigrants. The Bazaar's Instagram account described Andrés' return to the building as a way to "[build] longer tables," a nod to his support of diversity and inclusion.

Now that the union has been recognized, the harder work of negotiating pay and benefits lies ahead. The restaurant group said in its statement, "We hope in coming to the table together we can work cooperatively to preserve good jobs that will employ workers for years to come."