Restaurant workers converge in DC park for Labor Day rally

Restaurant workers and their supporters gather at Malcolm X Park in Northwest D.C. on Labor Day on Monday, Sept. 7, 2020. (Courtesy Sara DuBois)

Demonstrators turned out in D.C.’s Malcolm X Park on Labor Day, rallying to remind everyone that the COVID-19 pandemic is especially hard on restaurant workers — some of whom are fearful of the health risks they are facing and the economic uncertainty that lies ahead.

Under sunny skies Monday, the crowd listened to speakers and occasionally chanted, “People power” and “Restaurant owners shame on you, food workers have rights, too.”

Restaurant workers who spoke out told the crowd that the work was especially hard these days, with extra walking to reach outdoor tables, hot weather and long hours. Some charged that restaurants often failed to enforce D.C. pandemic rules, which require diners to wear masks when they’re not actively eating or drinking.

“Workers are having to interact with guests who are often unmasked,” said Sophia Miyoshi, a rally organizer with the Restaurant Opportunities Center United.

“Patrons of restaurants — some are great, but a lot of them think they can do whatever they want because they think that the customer is always right and so they won’t be wearing their mask when they should,” said bartender Nikki Del Casale, a 15-year veteran of the restaurant industry and member of the Restaurant Opportunities Center United.

The rally called for higher pay for restaurant workers who find themselves on the front lines of the pandemic. Del Casale suggested that even a little extra would help workers worried about the coming weeks.

After hearing speeches in the park, the demonstrators took off for a march through the Adams Morgan neighborhood. The rally served as a reminder of current hardships for restaurant workers due to the pandemic.

“We think that there should be hazard pay … patio season is going to be coming to an end, how are we going to survive?” Del Casale said.

Diners were then offered some advice. “When someone comes up to your table … if you’re asking someone to order, just put the mask on, be polite, tip more than you think you should and thank people for working,” Del Casale said.

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