Chef Geoff: Council Hearings Too Rowdy
With 150 witnesses on the agenda, Monday's hearing on paid sick leave for restaurant workers and a minimum wage increase promised to be a slog. Committee chairman Vincent Orange brought a bottle of 5-Hour Energy to stay alert, but he might not have needed it—soon after the hearing began, activists in favor of wage increases started shouting, with one accusing witnesses of "shucking and jiving."
Within minutes, Wilson Building security guards escorted the activists, associated with a group called Our D.C., out of the room. The outburst and involuntary exit were reminiscent of the protests inside the chamber after the Council's failed September override of the large retailer living wage bill.
Geoff Tracy, the owner of the Chef Geoff's restaurant chain, thinks there's an agenda at work in the disruptions. "The councilmembers whose agenda is supported by these things just let these people go for a little bit, get their media attention, and—knowing they've got their press—allow these people to be escorted out," says Tracy, who's also the chairman of the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington.
In an email Tuesday to Orange and the rest of the D.C. Council, Tracy says activists who regulary disrupt hearings should face "repercussions." Tracy tells LL that he's not sure what those repercussions should be, but thinks there should be some penalty all the same. "You don't see the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington hiring a bunch of people to come in there and pound drums and yell and scream," he says.
Tracy's group opposes efforts to eliminate the tipped minimum wage, but his spat with Our D.C. has a personal element. After Monday's hearing, protesters marched to Tracy's downtown restaurant to protest. The activists performed a skit starring a money-grubbing, paid-sick days-hating character named Chef Geoff the Clown. Afterward, they tried to enter Tracy's restaurant before being stopped by security, according to an activist who identified herself to LL as Sandy.
"None of the protesters knew ANYTHING about Chef Geoff’s," Tracy writes in his email to Orange. "They had never been patrons and were fully ignorant of our compensation structure and employment practices."
Deterred by the guards, Our D.C. protested briefly inside a nearby McDonald's instead.
Activist Jeremiah Lowrey tells LL that Tracy could pay the higher, tipless wages proposed in the Council.
"His house has been profiled in the Washington Post," Lowrey says.
Thank you for the hearing yesterday.
I want to express concern regarding the group “This Is Our DC” that disrupted the hearing, then protested in front of my downtown restaurant, and then invaded the McDonald’s across the street. First of all, these are not legitimate protests. These are temporary workers hired by larger organizations. In this case it is likely SEIU, as both This is Our DC and SEIU share the exact same address at 1800 Massachusetts Ave, NW. The disruptions to the committee hearings are planned, unnecessary, unacceptable, and not conducive to rational discourse.
The illegitimacy of the group is further proved when the president of my company (and my brother) met with the leader of this group in Freedom Plaza prior to their protests in front of my restaurant. My brother calmly told the organizer that Chef Geoff’s was being mischaracterized as a “Bad Actor”. Namely that 100% of our employees made more than minimum wage, our tipped servers averaged $29 an hour, and that Geoff himself believed a reasonable increase in the minimum wage was appropriate. The organizer responded by threatening my brother saying that “You better get out of here or I’m gonna have these people bum rush you.” Fortunately, we had building security in place when they arrived and they did not try to invade our restaurant. None of the protesters knew ANYTHING about Chef Geoff’s. They had never been patrons and were fully ignorant of our compensation structure and employment practices. Some, upon receiving the news that our servers made $29 an hour, wanted to know where to apply. Those who were dressed wearing chef toques were not chefs nor cooks. Additionally, they didn’t even know where the front door was and protested in front of the wrong door.
When they left, they invaded the McDonald’s across the restaurant as you can see in the video link below. When they finished there, they all enjoyed box lunches from Subway back in Freedom Plaza.
The only bad actors here are the organizations who mischaracterize legitimate businesses with fraudulent paid protests. These groups are not conducive to this process and they should not be given a stage in City Hall to make a mockery of the legitimate debaters without repercussions. Especially because they are repeat offenders. Groups like this should also face consequences when they invade a restaurant like they did yesterday.
Thank you again for hearing everyone’s testimony and for your service to our city. As always, I look forward to seeing you all in the restaurants.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery