Unionizing a Beloved Restaurant

by Sean Case of seattledsa.org

Late one night last June, a stray firework found its way inside the locked alley next to Glo’s, the beloved Capitol Hill restaurant I’ve worked at for the last seven years. It had been hot and dry that week, and the spare chairs and miscellaneous junk we stored there quickly caught fire, spreading to the side of the building, melting our utility panel, and filling the restaurant with smoke. The space was unusable, and my coworkers and I were out of a job. After a couple weeks of uncertainty, we found out we’d still be paid our average wages through fire insurance while we awaited the opening of our new location. We just had to work a couple days a week at a pop-up to keep the insurance payments flowing. Not a bad deal!

But it dragged on. An expected opening date in October became December. Then January, February, March—we finally opened in our new location on May 15. That whole time, we were locked into our pre-inflation wages. Some of my coworkers were paying upwards of 50 percent of their wages in rent every month. Communication from our bosses about the progress of the new space was spotty. We were nervous.We could have gotten other jobs. But we genuinely love each other and our workplace, and were urged not to by our bosses. We had gotten through the pandemic together—a rough time for all restaurant workers, us not least of all.

We had weathered abuse from customers irate about our masking and vaccination requirements, grueling and unsustainable pacing meted out by app-based online ordering services, and stagnant tips. For over two years, we had provided around 1,000 free meals a month to those in need, all while continuing to do the rest of our job to keep the restaurant afloat. We had our windows smashed, witnessed a stabbing in front of our workplace, and administered Narcan to struggling community members overdosing on our bench outside. We deserved a little break.