Dozens of union organizers and restaurant and hotel workers gathered at the Wharf today to protest the InterContinental Hotel’s decision to close Moon Rabbit, its acclaimed modern-Vietnamese dining room helmed by chef Kevin Tien. The closure was reported Monday—the restaurant’s last day of service—by the Washington Post. The announcement that “IHG Hotels & Resorts and Chef Kevin Tien have parted ways” came as a unionization effort at the hotel was ramping up, and demonstrators accused the hotel of union busting.
The hotel denies that. In a statement to Washingtonian, a spokesperson for the IHG Hotels & Resorts said the “hotel’s approach to the parting of ways was in no way impacted by the union’s ongoing efforts to unionize the hotel.”
UNITE HERE Local 25, a union for DC hotel, restaurant, and casino workers, represents over 6,500 workers, and began publicly attempting to form a union at the InterContinental Hotel in April. On May 1, it sent management a petition to hold a union election.
About 83 percent of the 90 hotel workers eligible for the union signed cards–including almost 50 Moon Rabbit employees, according to Paul Schwalb, executive secretary treasurer of UNITE HERE. Earlier this week, Moon Rabbit staffers were told the restaurant was closing and they wouldn’t be given any more hours.
Schwalb, who’s been organizing unions for 20 years, said, “I’ve never seen [a reaction] this bad… Forty-five people have been thrown out on the street.”
Howie Posely, who’s worked at the hotel since 2019, first heard about the union effort three months ago. She was immediately interested. “[We’ve] had turn over of a million managers. There’s only one manager that’s still there from the beginning,” she said. “It’s crazy. The house was like, shaking. It was a mess and it just got worse.”
After Posely finished her shift at Moon Rabbit on Monday, the General Manager and HR team pulled staff into a meeting. They were told the restaurant was closing and chef Kevin Tien, who was on the shortlist for a James Beard award earlier this year, said his goodbyes. “We thought we believed in the company, but the company doesn’t believe in us. So, it’s scary,” Posely said.
Another Moon Rabbit employee, Michael Cruz, became interested in unionizing because he was concerned about transparency in tip allocation. He said it was unclear where service fees were going, and it would take weeks to see missing tips show up in paychecks. The revolving door of managers meant no one was held accountable. When he reached out to the union on his own, he found out several other workers had done the same.
“We are all in a place of uncertainty,” Cruz says. “There were a lot of tears. People have bills to pay and we don’t have any income coming in at this point.” However, both Cruz and Posely, who still work for the hotel, remain committed to the unionization effort. They are hopeful a vote will be scheduled in the next few weeks.
The hotel has announced that the space that held Moon Rabbit—and before that, Kwame Onwuachi’s Kith/Kin— will be replaced with a breakfast-only concept.
— Keely Bastow (@KeelyBastow) May 24, 2023