Compliments Only’s small sandwich-making staff walked off the job on Saturday, July 15, in in a push for higher hourly pay and union recognition from management. The daytime demonstration came days after the nostalgic sub shop won the Rammy for the DMV’s hottest sandwich shop, and employees intentionally timed the weekend walkout to correspond with the anticipated surge in lunchtime foot traffic.
Employees previously asked to unionize and get paid more behind closed doors, and this is the first time they’ve made their protests public.
Compliments Only ownership has refrained from commenting on the ongoing internal matter until now. They provided an official statement to Eater, which in part, read:
“From the outset of our restaurant’s humble beginnings in 2020, we have been committed to providing compensation and benefits that are consistent with industry standards for small, local enterprises such as Compliments Only ... we are now, and have always been, committed to fostering a satisfying and rewarding work environment for all of our employees.”
The old-school deli, founded by Coconut Club alums Pete Sitcov and Emily Cipes during the pandemic, graduated from its original home on lower 14th Street NW to bigger digs in Dupont Circle last summer (2029 P Street NW).
“We are disappointed that the owners of Compliments Only have refused to respond to our demands or even meet with us,” per a prepared statement from United Food & Commercial Workers Local 400 Union (UFCW400), the bargaining agent should workers succeed in unionizing.
A previously delivered petition signed by most of its 10 employees called on management to raise pay by a few dollars an hour to $21; many currently make $17 (D.C.’s minimum wage of as July 1).
After management pushed back on union recognition and a pay boost twice, three workers on the clock staged the Saturday walkout and were joined in a picketing line by pro-union colleagues and community supporters. Union talks started this spring, per DCist, when bosses initially offered an increase of 25 cents or so an hour.
Rally signs pointed to the fact that current wages equate to being able to afford around one Compliments Only sub an hour, despite an average of 40 sandwich sales an hour.
Ten-inch subs range from $11 for a veggie-filled Farmers Market After Dark to $18 for a meatball-and-melted mozzarella grinder. The Teamster Italian sub, a best seller since day one ($15.50), includes ham, capicola, and Genoa salami, along with hot and sweet peppers, onions, oil and vinegar, and shredded lettuce.
“We opened during a pandemic when other places were shutting down … but we stepped up and made this place succeed,” said Compliments Only sandwich slinger Jessica Fox, in a statement. “Now it’s time for management to step up and make sure we succeed too.”
Employees allude to more potential walkouts and are prepared to take “additional” actions, but “we remain hopeful that they won’t be necessary and we can achieve a good outcome for everyone,” per a statement from UFCW400 on staff’s behalf.
UFCW400, which reps 35,000 members across multiple industries in D.C. and six states, recently organized workers at area businesses like La Colombe Coffee Roasters, Solid State Books, and Politics and Prose.
Here’s the full statement from Compliments Only:
Compliments Only has always had the highest possible commitment to the dignity of our employees, both personally and professionally. We care about our employees, and we treat them with courtesy, professionalism and sincere respect.
From the outset of our restaurant’s humble beginnings in 2020, we have been committed to providing compensation and benefits that are consistent with industry standards for small, local enterprises such as Compliments Only. While the specifics of employee compensation arrangements and other personnel issues are private, we wish to state emphatically that we are now, and have always been, committed to fostering a satisfying and rewarding work environment for all of our employees.
We recognize that, at times, good people with the best of intentions will encounter areas of disagreement. To that end, we respect, unconditionally, our employees’ right to express their opinions in a lawful manner, and wish them continued success as employees of Compliments Only.
Finally, we are grateful for our loyal customers, and look forward to continuing to serve them with the best sandwiches in town.