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With just months to go before its expected opening, a luxury hotel in Adams Morgan that risks losing a $46 million tax break due to hiring requirements has drawn criticism from a familiar foe: a hospitality workers union representing 6,500.
Unite Here Local 25 has launched a digital advocacy campaign aimed at New York-based developer Sydell Group, which has contracted with Walsh Construction to build the 200-plus-room hotel on the site of the former First Church of Christ, Scientist. The project is located right off Columbia Road NW, where Euclid and Champlain streets NW meet. It hopes to bring a fresh infusion of visitors and economic activity to one of the District’s more residential neighborhoods.
But as of September, the developer had only hired about a quarter of the 342 residents for construction as required by law, according to city officials. Sydell has said it will make sure to stay in compliance, and is confident it’s on track to do so.
Local 25 is heaping on disapproval of the developer’s slowness to fulfill the conditions of the yet-to-be triggered tax abatement, which some in the community have alleged was by design. The union has created a website urging Sydell to “respect Adams Morgan” and imploring residents to show their support of Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau. She has contended that the developer must hire up to receive the $46 million tax break, structured over a 20-year period, and has helped organize job fairs for the project.
“When the developers were trying to get tens of millions of dollars in tax breaks, they promised the community they would deliver good, middle-class union jobs at the hotel, and allow for a fair process for workers to organize without intimidation and harassment,” says Local 25 Executive Secretary-Treasurer John Boardman. “Now we find they’re refusing to hire local workers like they’re required to do and standing in the way of the fair labor protections they promised. That’s unacceptable.”
Sydell has not responded to a request for comment. Last year, the company’s CEO Andrew Zobler told the Washington Business Journal that it did not believe a labor peace agreement was “timely or appropriate” during the zoning review process for the hotel. “It doesn’t mean at the appropriate time we wouldn’t consider it,” Zobler said.
The union has also begun targeted advertising about the project on social media, geared towards District officials, industry leaders, and community activists. A spokesman for Local 25 says the campaign has already reached thousands of people. (Similar strategies have backfired in the past, angering at least one neighborhood commissioner.)
Importantly, the abatement agreement also specifies that “at least 51 percent of permanent jobs in the hotel shall be filled by District residents with a minimum of 51 percent of District resident jobs reserved for Ward 1 residents.” It does not address whether the jobs must be unionized, but does include a provision for a local workforce training program.
Once it opens, The Line is set to feature restaurants from big-name local chefs, including Maketto’s Erik Bruner-Yang.