‘Pay me what I’m worth’: Restaurant workers demand living wages as industry continues to falter

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After the trauma of widespread economic shutdowns during the coronavirus pandemic, the U.S. restaurant industry has largely reopened to business as eateries ranging from high-end bistros to fast food joints serve hungry customers.

But behind full tables and busy kitchens goes the story of an industry still in trouble amid the impact of the pandemic, characterized by staff shortages, low wages and fears that safety protocols are still not enough to virus that continues to pose a threat as the more contagious Delta strain spreads across the US.

Related: American restaurant workers are getting stiff. It’s time for employers to pay | Gene Marks

Restaurants across the country are constantly reporting that they are struggling to find enough employees to fill vacancies while operating with fewer staff. Employees have attributed to These labor shortages lead to poor wages and working conditions, disrespect from customers and ongoing concerns about Covid-19 safety. Employers often have accused unemployment benefits, but 26 states have preemptively ended federal extended unemployment benefits over the summer with little to no influence on job recovery.

“We’re still struggling and they still don’t care, and it’s their own fault that these companies are dealing with staff shortages,” said Iesha Franceis, who works at a Freddy’s Frozen Custard and Steakburgers chain in Durham. North Carolina, where she earns $11.40. o’clock. “We’re all still not earning living wages and these companies are still trying to squeeze a dime in every possible way.”

Job growth in the US leisure and hospitality industry stagnated in the month of August, when coronavirus cases due to the Delta variant surged, leading to further closures and the revival of mask mandates in many areas. Leisure and hospitality remains the sector hardest hit by Covid-19, lagging behind in recovery with almost 1.7 million fewer jobs than before the pandemic.

In the hospitality industry, jobs turned down with 42,000 in the month of August and the industry has experienced record percentages of employees who quit their job in 2021.

Franceis led strikes at her restaurant over safety concerns from Covid-19 and poor working conditions during the 2020 pandemic, and recently walked out with colleagues on Aug. 21, after its retail location waived closure for professional cleaning after an employee tested positive for Covid-19, a company policy Franceis claimed to have made in answer to their strikes in 2020.

Franceis explained that many workers have left due to the pandemic, while opening hours continue to be shortened, forcing her and her colleagues to cope with the increased workload and work extra hours to try to make up for staff shortages.

‘Pay me what I’m worth. Because if I can sacrifice myself for your business to keep your wheels turning, then it’s time you sacrifice yourself to keep my wheels turning,” Franceis added. “It’s off our backs that their lives are so easy.”

A Freddy’s spokesperson said in an email: “Freddy’s is uncompromisingly committed to safety and expects all of our franchisees to provide a safe work environment for their employees, including following proper cleaning and sanitation protocols. In addition, the local owner in Durham, as an independent franchisee, solely responsible for determining the hourly wages and salaries of their employees.”

At the registry of Burger Boy restaurant in Louisville, Kentucky, there is a help wanted sign. Photo: Amira Karaoud/Reuters

Similar problems continue to plague the employees of full-service restaurants in the US.

Many restaurants, including corporate chains operating under franchise models, are still unclear whether the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate applies to them, while vaccine mandates are for customers only? implemented by a few companies or municipalitiessuch as New York City, New Orleans, San Francisco, Honolulu, Philadelphia and the Seattle area.

Lily Nicholson, a server at a Memphis, Tennessee restaurant who survived the pandemic, described the constant harassment and problems faced by employees from customers who refuse to follow mask mandates and Covid-19 protocols, with companies differing widely in the extent to which they want to help with enforcement and protection.

“It’s such a precarious scenario. We’ve been the worker delegated to enforce this rule at the door where you’re supposed to be wearing a mask, so you’re already having an altercation at the door,” Nicholson said.

Jarmier Owens, an employee at a McDonald’s in Detroit, walked out with a few others colleagues in August after the restaurant’s air conditioner broke, but workers were expected to continue working without it being repaired.

“It’s just wrong how we as fast food workers toil our bums every two weeks for a paycheck and they treat us so unfairly,” said Owens, who was paid $10.50 an hour.

Earlier this month, McDonald’s employees in Bradford, Pennsylvania, walked out the job over low pay and poor management. During the summer, food service employees work at other McDonald’s locations, Jack in the Box, Hooters and other restaurants walked out the track about problems with broken air conditioners.

Priscilla Alexander, a mother of two, worked at a KFC restaurant in Detroit during the pandemic, earning just $10.50 an hour. In March, she contracted Covid-19 and was out of action for about a month due to complications from developing a blood clot in her lung that she is still taking blood thinners to treat.

Thousands of fast food workers in the US not have paid sick leave and the franchise model of many fast food chains has exempted them from paid sick leave from Covid-19 under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.

She was denied paid sick leave while unemployed, even though she notes that her restaurant struggles with staffing issues and has made false promises about pay raises and promotions to her and other employees.

“If you want people to work, you just pay workers what they want or at least meet their budget, because if you want us to work through a pandemic, you have to be able to show that you need us there and want,” he said. Alexander.

KFC did not respond to multiple requests for comment.