The Line Hotel doesn’t deserve a “progressive” brand

By Dida El-Sourady and Benjy Cannon

The Line Hotel in Adams Morgan bills itself as a hip and socially-conscious business — while marginalizing its workers and exacerbating our city’s already glaring levels of income inequality.

The Line’s home page boasts:

In Adams Morgan cultures intersect to create one of Washington, DC’s most diverse non-stop neighborhoods. With live music seven nights a week, ethnic cuisine from five continents and local shopping boutiques, Adams Morgan has something for everyone and delivers a uniquely rich way to experience the nation’s capital.

The developers give themselves a lot of credit for locating their boutique hotel in such a dynamic neighborhood. Their execution is pretty impressive too. They have famous chefs, well-reviewed restaurants and partnerships with community bookstores. They even have their own podcast radio station in the lobby, which regularly features the best and brightest of D.C.’s arts and culture scene, including some thoughtful and incisive voices on social justice in the District.

For example, last week, The Line hosted an insightful event about the rebellion in D.C. that followed the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr in 1968. The analysis presented there was cutting and interesting, and challenged conventional wisdom about what precipitated the outbreak of violence. It delved into the issues of racism and economic exploitation which then, as now, run rampant in D.C. It’s the kind of event that you’d hope to attend at a hotel that has built its brand on local culture and progressive ideas.

But behind their veneer of social justice and political awareness, The Line is actively contributing to D.C.’s crisis of income inequality.

When Brian Friedman and Matt Wexler of Foxhall Partners announced they were bringing a hotel to the First Church of Christ, Scientist building in Adams Morgan, they didn’t just promise a trendy hotel. They promised good, union jobs for the community and that a majority of construction workers who worked on the project would be D.C. residents. These promises were likely a big reason there was traction on the D.C. Council to grant the project a $46 million tax abatement.

But Wexler and Friedman broke their promises. It’s still not clear whether they kept their pledge to hire D.C. workers to build a majority of The Line — but they did contract with Power Design, a construction firm that has been accused of rampant wage theft.

Friedman’s commitment that there would be union jobs notwithstanding, it’s not up to the developer to decide to have a union; it’s up to the workers. But what the developer can and should do is agree to a fair process for workers to join the union. The developers have refused to agree to such a process, thus leaving open the door to a campaign of fear, lies, and intimidation by management against their employees.

It might not make for good branding, but The Line has refused to respect its commitment to provide a fair process for its employees to join the union in a city where residents are struggling to make ends meet. If D.C. were a state, it would rank dead worst in terms of income inequality and 48th in terms of child poverty. Rampant inequality and poverty disproportionately impact D.C.’s communities of color. While profiting off of Adams Morgan’s diversity and culture, The Line and projects like it are driving poor, black and immigrant working families out of the city, who increasingly cannot afford to live here.

When The Line was promised a massive, $46 million subsidy from the Council, part of the expectation was that it would play a role in alleviating D.C.’s catastrophic inequities. Instead, it’s become part of the problem. The Line may use diversity, inclusion, and justice as a sales pitch — but there’s nothing hip or progressive about building a hotel that benefits the city’s most privileged residents on the backs of its most vulnerable.

Dida El-Sourady is the Organizing Director at UNITE HERE Local 25.

Benjy Cannon is the Communications and Strategic Research Officer at UNITE HERE Local 25.