Workforce

The staff of another Jose Andres restaurant aims to unionize

Employees of The Bazaar in Washington, D.C., have drafted a petition and asked for voluntary recognition of union representation. The famed chef has yet to respond.
Jose Andres | Photo courtesy of ThinkFoodGroup

Employees of a Jose Andres-run restaurant in Washington, D.C., have begun the process of forming a union, confronting a chef renowned for his charitable work with a test of how righteous he’ll be with his own staff.

Local 25 of Unite Here, the second largest union in the hospitality industry, announced on Wednesday that employees of The Bazaar have taken the first step toward organizing. Workers told local media that a “super-majority” of staff members had signed a petition calling for the formation of a union.  

The union said the staff is seeking “better treatment, employer-paid healthcare, and safer working conditions.

The pro-union employees include hosts, food runners, cooks, servers and bartenders, according to Unite Here.

Andres’ organization, the Jose Andres Group, did not respond to Restaurant Business’ request for comment.

Under new federal rules, Andres can either recognize the union immediately, essentially ushering the chapter into existence, or file a request that employees confirm via an election that a majority want to organize.  

The chef’s holding company voluntarily recognized the union at three other restaurants whose staffs sought in the past to organize. Two are in Los Angeles and one is in the District.

The National Labor Relations Board, the federal agency that regulates union organizing, can set aside a request for an election if it detects any anti-union activity on the part of the employer. In that instance, the union is designated as the bargaining agent for the staff and the employer is required to negotiate a new labor contract in good faith.

Only the employees of the one Bazaar restaurant in D.C. have disclosed plans to organize. But the concept has several namesake sisters, including ones in New York City, Chicago and Las Vegas. The fine-dining brand specializes in small plates, the serving style that’s a signature of Andres.

The situation is steeped in politics. Andres has strong ties to the White House, in part through co-chairing President Biden’s Council on Sports, Fitness and Nutrition. The administration has been strident in pushing for unionization, with Biden hailing organized labor as a major catalyst in raising workers into the middle class.

In addition, the D.C. Bazaar is located in a former U.S. Postal Service building that’s been converted into a Waldorf Astoria luxury hotel. Members of the hotel staff already have union representation.

Before operating as a Waldorf Astoria, the property was run by Donald Trump’s Trump Organization as the Trump Hotel. Andres was invited during the real estate mogul’s successful run for the president in 2016 to open a restaurant in the hotel, but the chef refused after Trump made disparaging remarks during the campaign about Mexicans.

Trump then sued Andres’ company for $10 million, alleging breach of contract. The conflict was settled in 2017.

While Trump was president, many foreign dignitaries booked rooms and special events at the Trump Hotel, prompting assertions the officials were pumping money into the business in hopes of influencing White House policy. Trump was accused of violating the emoluments clause of the U.S. Constitution, a little-known provision that bars government officials from accepting payments from foreign governments.

Andres has become a global celebrity through his World Central Kitchen, a charity he founded in 2010. The operation races to the scenes of natural disasters like hurricanes or earthquakes to feed the local population and the rescue workers coming to their aid. Andres is often personally involved in providing the meals.

His other restaurants include Jaleo, Barmini, Minibar, China Chilcano and Beefsteak.

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