In a perfect world, DC Bread and Brew, which sources its ingredients from local and organic farms and growers whenever possible, is a lunch place patronized by those who care about sustainability, environment, animal rights and whatnot. One would think that being the leading toque at a restaurant of such reputation must be rewarding. In reality, the life in the 60-plus-hour workweek of Mya Zeronis, the second chef in a row to resign from the position of running the kitchen at the establishment now merely two years old, was everything but glamorous.
Four months ago at DC Bread and Brew, an employee mopped the floor of the restroom inside the restaurant and left it without the sign indicating "WET FLOOR." Zeronis slipped and fell hurting her arm. When she addressed her concern about workplace safety and the employee's job readiness, Teri Van Goethem, the owner, threatened to take away her job. About three weeks later, Zeronis left her post. In retaliation, Van Gothem is withholding her final paycheck.
A wage claim has been filed against DC Bread and Brew. However, every time a worker files a claim for unpaid wages with the District of Columbia Department of Employment Services, how soon the worker gets paid is uncertain. In some cases, the Office of Wage-Hour may take more than one year to recover wages owed. Meanwhile, the worker's family needs food and a place to live.
A member of Restaurant Opportunities Center of Washington, DC (ROC-DC) and ex student journalist previously involved with social justice and peace actions organized by Thomas Merton Center, Zeronis is dedicated to seeking justice for exploited restaurant workers like herself. Both by words and actions, she pledges to be a voice in the movement for workers' rights that will raise the bar and awareness across the industry, while she sets an example to inspire workers to speak out and empower them to be the change they wish to see. This petition was written not just to get her wages but to pave the way for others being treated unfairly by employers. In lieu of workers' collective organizing, employers get away with breaking the laws.
The following is her experience working at DC Bread and Brew where she was subject to verbal abuse by Van Goethem, the owner, and hostility from male workers who defied a woman in charge of the kitchen:
"I was excited to accept the job offer emailed to me by the owner of DC Bread and Brew. I was offered a probationary rate of pay lower than typical salary range for a head chef. Regardless, I took the opportunity to cook using mostly local and organic ingredients. The chef before me had already left and I walked into the situation where the kitchen staff was mismanaged and undisciplined for a few months due to the lack of a leader to follow.I immediately felt resistance from the predominantly male staff members who never once had seen a female chef ....except on TV. One of them wasn't too shy to get confrontational and question everything I did. One day, he got so hostile that I wondered why the owner allowed such behavior in the first place. The good thing was he quit a few weeks later and the rest of the staff began to back off as I had proven myself and earned respect. I still wasn't happy with the competence level of some staff members.
There was this cook who clearly had no passion for putting out a meal to wow the guests and often disregarded my demand for professionalism by making sarcastic comments minimizing his own shortcomings. I turned to the owner but her response was: 'If I were to choose between you and him, I would choose him.' What's worse is that she gave someone without experience a dishwasher position whose duties would include mopping the floors. I fell on the floor he left wet. I made the right decision to walk away from this job. After all, I didn't get paid enough to get injured and miss work. I have a four-year-old who grows by the week.
The owner denies she owes me wages for the last days I worked. " Please join a number of caring individuals in signing the petition to tell Teri Van Goethem, the owner of DC Bread and Brew, that withholding wages is not only illegal and punishable by law, it's also a bad business practice. Her "responsible" restaurant could potentially lose customers who are unlikely to let slide a wage theft and exploitation of a restaurant worker who once prepared and cooked the meals they enjoyed at her establishment. Happy holidays!