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Washtenaw County Restaurant Industry Workers Campaign to Keep Dining Rooms Closed

Employees cite concerns over the safety of opening for sit-down service during an ongoing public health crisis

Carryout delivery curbside pickup store offering pickup coronavirus covid-19 pandemic Ann Arbor quarantine.
Restaurants and bars were closed for all but carryout and delivery service in Michigan until June, 8, when the state permitted dining room reopenings at 50 percent capacity.
Andrew Boydston/Shutterstock
Brenna Houck is a Cities Manager for the Eater network. She previously edited Eater Detroit and reported for Eater. You can follow her on the internet at @brennahouck.

An Ann Arbor-area group representing food service industry workers is circulating a petition online calling for Washtenaw County to extend its dine-in closures for restaurants and bars.

On Monday, June 1, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer gave restaurants and bars permission to reopen on Monday, June 8 for dine-in service at 50 percent capacity with six feet of social distance between groups. The state also requires businesses to monitor the health of employees, provide COVID-19 safety training for staff and ensure that staff wear masks. While the governor’s order lifts some restrictions on dining in, local cities and municipalities are empowered to enforce tighter restrictions.

Based on a discussion amongst members of the service industry in a private Facebook group, organizers developed a petition requesting that the county suspend the reopening of dining rooms for the safety of staff and customers, A4 reports. It also requests that if employees are forced to work at establishments that reopen, that they be compensated with hazard pay. Organizers say the petition has received more than 700 signatures since Friday.

The petion cites concerns about community spread of the novel coronavirus and examples of other states that have seen spikes in cases since reopening. It also addresses the fact that restaurant workers that were previously paid partially with tips are likely taking a pay cut by returning to work during this period of partial reopening. Many restaurant workers do not have health benefits, meaning if they were to fall ill, they might incur costly medical bills. The petition reads, in part:

Service workers are low-wage workers with little protection under the law and our industry has long been known for its labor violations, hostile working conditions, and systemic discrimination unchecked by an at-will employment state. While some owners will take the health of their staff into consideration it’s presumptuous to assume that an industry that has treated the majority of its workforce as disposable will change in the face of economic turmoil, especially with only a week to prepare. We cannot trust that our employers are going to put our health and safety, and that of our families, first. In addition, since many of us don’t have healthcare, the potential lasting repercussions to our health with a COVID-19 diagnosis could be even more financially disastrous for us. We need to be assured by our government, if we are forced to come back to work, that our livelihoods—and our lives—matter.

They plan to present the petition to Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners and the Democratic State Rep. Yousef Rabhi.

Thus far, metro Detroit area restaurants appear to be taking a slow and cautious approach to reopening with some setting dining room opening dates for several days — and even several weeks out. Restaurants in the Ann Arbor area also faced challenges with reopening due to the seasonality of its service industry, which employs many college students, as well as challenges with restocking kitchens during a pandemic when traditional food supply chains have been upended.

Service Industry Workers Petition to Extend Closures in Washtenaw County Over Public Health Concerns [A4]
Petition to Extend the Closure of Dine-In Services at Bars and Restaurants in Washtenaw County [Google Docs]
Rising Food Costs and Labor Concerns Hamper the Reopening of Ann Arbor Restaurants [ED]