AOC to Bartend for a Day to Advocate Policies That Closed Former Employer

New York City's increased minimum wage drove AOC's former employer out of business

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D., N.Y.) / Getty Images
May 28, 2019

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D, N.Y.) is set to bartend again for a day to advocate for policies that led to one of her former employers shutting down its business.

The freshman congresswoman will return to her district in New York City this Friday to "pour a few pints" and push for the federal Raise the Wage Act while showing support for "abolishing below-minimum wage" for tipped workers in the state, the New York Daily News reports.  The exact location of the event, which was organized by the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, a New York-based nonprofit that advocates for increased pay through its ONE FAIR WAGE campaign, will be announced later.

"We're very grateful for our partnership with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who fully understands the struggles of these workers," Saru Jayaraman, co-founder of Restaurant Opportunities Center United, told the Daily News of the event. "As a former tipped worker, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez can shed light on the importance of One Fair Wage to lift up these workers and their families."

However, the very policies Ocasio-Cortez is set to draw attention to ultimately led to one of her former employers shuttering its own operations.

Charles Milite, co-founder of the Coffee Shop, where Ocasio-Cortez previously worked, said that the increased minimum wage to $15 per hour for businesses with more than 11 employees led him and his partners to reevaluate their business and shut it down.

"I know it doesn't sound like much—$2 an hour," Milite told Crains New York Business in April. "But when you multiply it by 40 hours, by 130 people, it becomes a big number. It was going to increase our monthly payroll $46,000."

Ocasio-Cortez mourned the loss of the Coffee Shop and stopped in before it closed its doors. "The restaurant I used to work at is closing its doors," Ocasio-Cortez tweeted last August. "I swung by today to say hi one last time, and kid around with friends like old times." The freshman congresswoman, however, never acknowledged the policies that led to its demise.

After being in business for 28 years and attracting big names, 130 employees ultimately lost their jobs when the company was driven out of business.

"It is unfortunate that Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez would return to New York City to advocate for a policy that's caused so much harm to the people she used to work for," said Michael Saltsman, managing director of the Employment Policies Institute. "Rising labor costs coupled with no tip credit has already proven devastating in the Bay Area, and massive tipped wage increases put NYC's full-service restaurant job growth in the red. A national policy of this magnitude will only cause increased job layoffs and restaurant closures."

New York City restaurants saw nearly a 2 percent job loss last year—the city's first loss in the sector in two decades. Nearly 77 percent of full-service restaurants have reduced employee hours, according to a survey conducted by the New York Hospitality Alliance on the wage increase.  The survey also found that nearly a third of respondents plan to cut jobs and increase prices at their establishments.

All businesses in the city must pay their employees the increased $15 per hour wage after December 31 of this year.

"The results of this survey, and other industry trends, signal that a once-growing industry responsible for hundreds of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in economic impact has become stagnant," said the Hospitality Alliance.

Ocasio-Cortez's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.