Chicago Coronavirus

Chicago Restaurant Worker Pens Open Letter to Pritzker, Lightfoot Asking For Food Service Coronavirus Protections

Veteran bartender and server asks Illinois leadership to "put people before profits" by expanding guidance for restaurant staff amid partial reopening

Christopher Dilts/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A restaurant worker employed by a popular eatery in Chicago’s Andersonville neighborhood published a letter Tuesday asking Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot for specific guidelines to protect servers, bartenders and other restaurant workers in the coronavirus era.

In a passionate letter published to Medium, Don Woolf, who has worked in the food service industry for over 20 years, criticizes state and city leadership for not adequately addressing the concerns of restaurant employees in their Phase 3 recommendations.

“The guidelines do absolutely nothing to ensure the safety and health of restaurant workers. Instead, they put us in danger.”

Among several concerns, Woolf writes that the current guidance does not go far enough to hold restaurants accountable when it comes to reporting cases and protecting staff, writing management is being left to “self-monitor, self-regulate and self-police.”  

“Your favorite bistro might just be the next coronavirus hotspot, though you’ll never know it…People are broke, scared, and desperate. No one will want to lose shifts or have their restaurant shut down a second time. No one wants the publicity. No one will report COVID-19 cases.”

Woolf goes on to raise questions about how workers can protect themselves from the virus, writing guidance is limited on how to safely perform their duties beyond hand washing.  Current Illinois guidelines require servers to wear face coverings, while customers may remove theirs when seated.

“Imagine a waitress serving a six-top. She leans in close to hear each customer’s order. It’s loud, and some of them yell into her ear. She’s wearing a mask to protect them; they are wearing nothing to protect her. She leans in again and again throughout the evening, bringing drinks, clearing plates, taking credit cards, dropping off check presenters. Now imagine one of those customers was asymptomatic and shedding virus with each breath.”

Woolf also points out that restaurant workers are required to take on additional duties amid the pandemic, including extra cleaning and sanitization.

Woolf writes food service workers require direction and oversight specific to their industry because it is “unlike any other industry in America,” and worries a lack of wait staff protection could have dire consequences.

“Don’t pave the road to recovery with the COVID-19 riddled bodies of waiters and waitresses. That’s not who we are as an industry. That’s not who we are as a city. That’s not who we are as a state. We must put people before profit.”

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