It’s not like teachers or policemen. Political operatives don’t strategize about how to get the “waiter vote.” And that’s why the owner of Square Rabbit Rebecca Llewellyn decided it was time for her political party to meet her workers.
On Monday, the Democratic Women of Wake County hosted a meet and greet for Raleigh service industry workers and local politicians at the Mecca Restaurant in downtown Raleigh.
“I’m a good Democrat and a service industry worker,” said Llewellyn. “I think it’s time for the party to get to know us.”
For the roughly 20 service industry workers that filtered through Mecca during the evening, health care was the No. 1 topic across the board.
“We don’t make a lot of money and it’s hard to stay healthy when you work in this industry for a long time,” said Troy Jeffries of the Pourhouse Music Hall. “We need affordable ways to see a doctor.”
Workers were handed a general questionnaire when they arrived at the event, it asked about taxes, education and military spending, but did not directly address health care.
Party officials said the questionnaire was to help them get a better idea of what is important to service industry workers.
Several local politicians addressed the crowd.
“Your job gives you a better understanding of people that others don’t have,” City Councilor Mary-Ann Baldwin told the crowd. “I bet you all have been treated badly.”
She pitched the younger crowd, saying that Democrats want to give people in the service industry, “not a hand out, but a hand up.”
“I think everybody should have to wait tables at some point in their lives,” Wake County Commission candidate Caroline Sullivan told the crowd.
The politicians were big on understanding, but solutions to the financial struggles of the service industry were not free flowing.
Student loans were another big issue with the workers.
“We just don’t make the same money as other people,” said David Nelson, who works behind the counter at Square Rabbit. “The loans are killing my finances and my ability to make rent.”
While the waiters, hosts, cooks and other restaurant workers were glad to be heard, most didn’t leave energized or hopeful either.
“Health care and higher wages would be nice,” said Tom Cushman, also of Square Rabbit. “But it ain’t going to happen.”
“If people [in the service industry] were better informed it might be easier for us to get some of the things we want,” he said.